Updated: Aug 29
Well, those few years of celebrations were fun, weren’t they? In an effort to crack down on the issue of taunting (who knew there was an issue?), the NFL released a series of new rules today, along with a video showing certain actions that will now be penalties this season.
In a statement from the league in the announcement video, the league claims that, “[W]e saw an increase in actions that clearly are not within the spirit and intent of this rule and not representative of the respect to opponents and others on the field.”
As a result, the league has instructed to crack down and enforce these taunting rules strictly. The Fun Police are back at it again, levying heavy penalties should a player be called for such conduct. Now, two taunting penalties committed by one player will result in an automatic disqualification. In addition to this heavy penalty for repeat offenders, the taunting player may be fined and/or suspended depending on the severity of the actions.
In the press release, the NFL provides some examples of what exactly constitutes a “taunting act.” Here, these acts consist of “using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League” and “using baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams.” Taunting is under the rules of unsportsmanlike conduct, which is “any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship.” Who knew that the League would be so focused on ill will between the teams in a sport where the players are actively trying to inflict punishment on the other team?
One thing that comes to mind here is how much celebrations have become part of the League’s culture, so much so that the NFL social media accounts typically release videos for Best Celebrations during the season. For reference, there were only TEN taunting penalties called all last season.
In a league where spectators still jokingly wonder what exactly a catch is (ask Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson about the NFL’s wonderful interpretation of that rule), the immediate concern that comes to mind is how exactly will this be enforced? The NFL has a well-known reputation of botching rulings with reference to these ambiguous rules. With the catch rule in mind, one can’t help but think that this rule will more affect the outcome of games, rather than merely being a guidelines for how the game should be played. Especially in the case of an all-star caliber player expressing emotion – a 15 yard penalty or ejection could seriously alter the trajectory of a game.
It seems once again that the League can’t seem to get out of their own way. How long will this strict interpretation last? Will the NFL listen to their fans when the vast majority approve of such celebrations and taunting? It will be interesting to see whether the NFL digs their heels in, or whether they decide to pull back.
Daniel A. Goldstein is a practicing attorney at Carnes Warwick PLLC in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Campbell University's School of Law, and obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill. He has written on sports law-related issues for the North Carolina Bar Association's Intellectual Property blog. You can follow him on Twitter @dgunc3 and on Instagram @dangoldstein3.