Mexico Central Academy's quarterback Dante Turo ran for an exciting 73-yard touchdown against Vernon-Verona-Sherrill on Oct. 17 in Syracuse, New York, and then he pointed his finger skyward. Moments later, the high school player got flagged with a penalty (video below).
"I was just trying to give glory to God," Turo told Syracuse.com
“I tried to explain to the referee that threw the flag and the head referee, but they just said, it’s taunting,” Mexico head coach Tee Murabito told FoxNews.com. “I told them he was praising God. How is that taunting?”
Turo told Fox News host Anna Kooiman on Oct. 22, "I didn't feel that I did anything wrong, or anything that would merit unsportsmanlike conduct like he called."
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Geno, Turo's father, added:
I've tried to raise all my children to be fearless in the face of opposition and to be courageous enough to stand up for what they believe in. And to fight against any type of oppression against their beliefs.
Kooiman said the school told Fox News that the penalty "call had nothing to do with penalizing a religion or religious expression, as the coach, player and parent have misled the media to believe."
Turo denied misleading the media, and claimed that pointing up to God was the "international signal of, you know, giving praise to Jesus, and that's all I was trying to do."
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According to Snopes.com, raising a finger in the air was practiced at one time in Baptist and AME churches as a way to excuse oneself from the sanctuary.
Public Radio International noted in September 2014 that the raised index finger is used by ISIS terrorists.
In secular audiences, the raised finger usually signifies: "We're number one."
The touchdown counted, but Mexico was penalized 15 yards (the alleged "oppression" against Turo's faith) on their two-point conversion attempt, which failed. Mexico eventually lost, 33-31.
"Was that a play that cost us the game?" Murabito told Syracuse.com. "No. But it did have an influence. That call had more impact than you see in the box score."
I do it every time I score, no matter if it's a QB sneak or a longer run. The ref said I was taunting the other team. That wasn't my intention at all.
I kind of explained to him that I wasn't trying to do anything arrogant or anything like that. I was just expressing my faith. He just said "Don't do it again."
Those were his only words. Honestly, I don't think it was right. I wasn't trying to bring attention to myself.
"It has been a long standing policy that the Mohawk Valley Chapter of Certified Football Officials does not address the media pertaining to penalty calls or any other actions made during a football game," Kevin Simons, rules interpreter for the Mohawk Valley officials, told Syracuse.com.