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New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) celebrates the longest touchdown in Saints history against the Oakland Raiders in an NFL football game in the Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

Brandin Cooks isn't about to let the NFL take the bow and arrow out of his hands.

Nor should he.

For Cooks, the celebratory act of pulling back an imaginary arrow after a touchdown is a sign of reverence, a symbol of devotion that hadn't caused any problems, at least until Washington cornerback Josh Norman was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and fined $10,000 for performing a similar celebration near the sideline after an interception two weeks ago.

Cooks was surprised. His bow and arrow has never been a problem before, not even in the 2016 season opener, when he pulled back and fired twice after touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders.

Now, the NFL's competition committee has decided that simulating the act of shooting a bow and arrow represents violence.

"The key is if it's a gesture that either mimics a violent act — that's something with a firearm or a bow and arrow — or a sexually suggestive act, those are unsportsmanlike conduct," Blandino told the NFL Network last week. "That's something that officials will flag. That's direct from the competition committee and something that we're going to try to be as consistent as possible."

Norman's flag and fine represented the first time the NFL has cracked down on Cooks' signature celebration.

"I've been doing it for three years now, and there was never a complaint about it," Cooks said. "Now, all of a sudden, there is. It just reminds me that, it's almost as if they try to take so much away from us, but for something like this, that means so much to someone that has nothing to do with violence, it's frustrating. I'll definitely continue to speak my opinion about it, and if they have a problem with it, so be it."

Cooks picked up his bow and arrow from the Bible. 

A devout Christian whose Twitter account is dotted with passages from the Bible, Cooks initially found himself struck by the story of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and his wife's servant, an Egyptian named Hagar. After Abraham's wife, Sarah, bore him another son, Isaac, she wanted the boy and Hagar cast out of their house, and God promised to Abraham that he would make a great nation out of Ishmael, the same promise he'd made about Isaac.

Ishmael and Hagar wandered in the wilderness after leaving Abraham, and the boy became an expert archer to provide for himself and his mother.

The story stuck with Cooks, and then he found another verse that spoke to him. 

Psalms 144:6. 

"Send forth lightning and scatter your enemy, and shoot your arrows and rout them," Cooks quoted. "I just remember it sticking with me for such a long time, I remember thinking, maybe I can do something with this."

The symbolism matters so much to Cooks that he calls himself "The Archer" and had a gold pendant custom-made in the offseason to wear on a gold chain around his neck.

For Cooks, the bow and arrow is equivalent to pointing to the heavens or dropping to a knee after he crosses the goal line. 

"It's one of those things that keeps me honed in and keeps me humble through the success and the gifts that I've been given," Cooks said. "I think it's a pretty cool way to give God the glory in a different way, and for other people to see it and buy in."

Hard to understand why the NFL would take that away from him. A bow and arrow might be deadly, but Robin Hood and Cupid are more playful than malicious, and this is 2016. Any fan who wonders why Cooks is firing an imaginary arrow can Google the answer in a flash.

But on a deeper level, the NFL spends too much time trying to erase the personalities of its players. As much as the league wants to pretend it is populated by freakishly athletic drones, the NFL is made up of human beings, and their backgrounds, stories and inspirations draw fans to the game as much as their achievements.

Cooks, for example, has far more depth than his blinding speed. The wide receiver was available Tuesday as a spokesman for Mercedes-Benz's partnership with Uber to give away tickets to Saints games. Fans who open the Uber app and use the promo code "MBDrivesNOLA" before kickoff will be eligible to be one of 25 who select Mercedes-Benz vehicles and earn two free tickets to the Superdome.

The reason for Cooks' partnership with Mercedes-Benz? Right after he was drafted, he bought his mother a Mercedes-Benz, the car he'd always loved as a kid. The company saw the story and brought him on board. 

So Cooks isn't going to let the NFL's sudden emphasis on banning archery-related imagery take away something that has become a central symbol of his faith.

"I plan to continue a form of it, but who knows what's going to happen, you know, once you're in the end zone, when so much adrenaline is going and so much excitement is going?" Cooks said. "One thing I want to make sure I don't do is hurt my team, but I'll do a form of it in such a way where hopefully I don't get flagged on it."

The fact that he has to alter his celebration at all is a shame. 

No matter what the NFL says, Cooks' arrow has always been aimed in the right direction.

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.