James Burns: 'Holy Hankie' took taunting rule too far

October 6, 2009 

Burns, James

James Burns, sports editor

This was the definition of excessive celebration, dressed in festive blue but bleeding sweet, sweet irony.

A revelry fit for everyone and everything, even God.

There was a fireworks show that would have made Uncle Sam blush, with bursts of light after every Atwater touchdown.

There were streakers in white undies who dashed down the home sideline, bouncing cheerleaders and the marching band.

There were Homecoming candidates in their Sunday best, Mickey Mouse and did I mention streakers?

Everywhere Golden Valley looked there was Atwater screaming and cheering, singing and dancing, celebrating like there was no tomorrow.

Excessive? Sure, but it was Homecoming -- everything's supposed to be over the top.

Was it ironic? You bet your britches.

Because before it ever made headlines with its 56-6 victory over Golden Valley last Friday, the Atwater football team was hot topic for another reason.

Call it the "Separation of Church and Score," or the "Holy Hankie."

In a non-league showdown with Beyer, Atwater running back Angel Molina punctuated his third touchdown of the game by tapping his chest twice and then pointing to the sky.

He didn't say a word.

This is nothing new.

Athletes of all sports and levels use this gesture as a way to praise God, thanking him for the moment and the opportunity.

Sammy Sosa made it popular in the 1990s, when he famously battled slugger Mark McGwire for the all-time single-season home run record.

America got teary-eyed when McGwire mimicked Sosa's tap-tap-point.

Pro football players won't just point -- they'll take a knee, too.

Olympic sprinters hit the tape and immediately look up -- not at their time, but their higher power.

Now I could have left well enough alone and let this episode fade into the background.

But ...

I couldn't resist. I had to know if other officials thought this was as silly and sinful as I suspected.

So just before the second half of last Friday's Homecoming victory, I polled the officials.

To be clear, the crew working Friday's game did not officiate the game Sept. 26, but all of these officials seemed well versed in the call.

The white-capped official had spoken with friends about the now-infamous touchdown, and though he heard there were moments earlier that led to the flag, he eventually admitted penalizing a player for honoring God was wrong.

The other crew members read the Sun-Star's initial reaction: "Refs, God help them."

Their verdict, more or less: excessive use of the yellow flag, excessive use of personal vendetta.

Taunting might be the most subjective rule in the football handbook, because of gray areas like this.

Rule 9-5, article 1C in the National Federation of State High School Association Football Rules Book: "Any delayed, excessive or prolonged act by which a player attempts to focus attention upon himself."

Now the question becomes: Was Molina showing up his opponent?

Hardly.

Clearly, the only ones who should have been offended by this innocent gesture are 1) the people who don't believe in God, and 2) God for being pointed at.

Not the refs.

Not Beyer.

By all accounts, Molina wasn't delaying the game or being flamboyant in celebration. What's more, he wasn't even drawing attention to himself. If anything, he was putting God in the spotlight.

Flag the player who pounds his chest like it were a steel gong and then points at the opposition -- not God.

Flag the player who leaps unnecessarily into the end zone for a TD.

Flag the kid who squats in his own glory, flexing as he stands over the poor lad he just leveled.

Flag the team that leaves the sideline and rushes the field after a big TD.

Flag the kid who dunks the ball through the uprights, because 1) it's taunting and 2) because you can't do it.

Don't flag the kid who gave props to The Big Fella Upstairs, even if he's mouthy or a pain in the butt during the game's other 49 plays.

That would be excessively silly.

And sinful.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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