clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The NFL should learn how to have fun from the NBA

The NFL should take a page from the NBA and let players be themselves without fear of a fine or flag.

San Francisco 49ers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The NFL has made a lot of news through the first seven weeks of the season. It hasn’t been because of spectacular plays, but rather what happens after those plays.

The NFL has been great at adapting over the years when it comes to its rules. Quarterbacks are immensely safer under the current rules than they used to be, as well as defenseless wide receivers and linemen from chop blocks.

The one thing the NFL hasn’t adapted to is the entertainment factor of the game. Players don’t have a lot of leeway when it comes to celebrations or self-expression. Through seven weeks of play in the 2016 season, 13 fines have been issued for celebrations, as well as four more for uniform violations.

In the NBA, some of the most fun and marketable players in sports are entertaining us on a nightly basis. That can be greatly attributed to the fact that the league allows players to just be themselves.

There are plenty of great personalities in the NFL, but they are often penalized and fined for showing those personalities on the field. It’s helped the NFL live up to the popular nickname, the “No Fun League.”


In Week 5, Carlos Hyde flexed on a pair of Arizona Cardinals defenders after picking up a first down. Flexing is a very common way of intimidating somebody, or just showing off your muscles. You can’t do that in the NFL, unless you’re willing to pay $9,115.

The reasoning behind Hyde’s fine was that the NFL rulebook prohibits acts like the “incredible hulk” being “committed directly at an opponent.”

In the NBA, that’s something that goes on pretty often. Especially if you’re somebody like Draymond Green, who has essentially made it his go-to celebration.

That happens during every Golden State Warriors game, oftentimes more than once. You know how many fines and fouls Green gets for those? None. The opposition has to take it, and move on.

So Green saves at least $9,115 for each flex by NFL standards. That’s a lot of gym memberships he can pay for, so he can keep showing off his guns.


Any type of dancing is pretty much not allowed in the NFL, unless you are Rob Gronkowski or Victor Cruz. This season in particular, the concern has been over “sexually suggestive” dances. We’re really talking about twerking and hip thrusting, which Antonio Brown has been doing a lot of this season after getting in the end zone.

The twerking:

The thrusting:

In the NBA, dancing happens all the time. Some are random, some are brilliantly choreographed, and some are kinda bad. Russell Westbrook and Cameron Payne are one of the best-known dancing duos in the league.

It’s easy to see why. I mean, look at this beautifully choreographed dance.

The Thunder won’t be quite as good this year without Kevin Durant, but they’re still going to be an entertaining bunch. Westbrook and Payne are just two reasons why.

NFL players are more than capable of doing the same when it comes to choreographed dances. The only difference is that it’s a penalty. Ask the Carolina Panthers, who did this earlier this season and got a 15-yard flag for it.

Of course, if you’re looking for a dance happening in the game, look no further than James Harden stealing Lil B’s cooking dance. Whenever Harden sinks a three-pointer, expect him to stir the pot, prolonging the Based God’s curse.

Shooting imaginary bow and arrows

Josh Norman was fined for pretending to shoot a bow and arrow after he came up with a big interception that led to a touchdown. The NFL docked Norman $10,000 for the act.

Denver Nuggets rookie Jamal Murray happens to do the same thing. This bow and arrow will cost nothing in the NBA, and he even took out one of his own teammates with it.

Finger wagging

The Kansas City Chiefs’ Marcus Peters was given a taunting penalty in Week 2 of the NFL season this year, after he wagged his finger at Texans wide receiver Will Fuller. Which is ridiculous when you consider that’s an adopted signature by J.J. Watt, that goes uncalled and even tweeted out by the NFL.

That was, of course, the signature celebration of Hall of Fame NBA center Dikembe Mutombo, which has since been adopted by current NBA big Bismack Biyombo. There are no repercussions for the wag, as long as it’s not in somebody’s face, as of 2007.

That’s a pretty harmless gesture. If you’re in a spot where somebody is wagging their finger at you, you probably earned it, if we’re being honest.

LeBron James’ silencer celebration

It’s one of the most recognizable celebrations in the NBA. LeBron James’ silencer made its way through the NBA and the sports world when he was with the Miami Heat, and he’s held on to it ever since.

It’s totally random, but it’s also totally awesome!

Terrelle Pryor did the same when he recorded his first career receiving touchdown in Week 4 against Washington, except his silencer cost $9,000.

For Pryor to lose thousands of dollars over it is dumb. It was a tribute from one Cleveland athlete to another, but because he used the ball as a prop, that’s a flag. That city hasn’t had a lot to celebrate over the past five decades, so when the Browns do something good, let them enjoy it because it’s so rare.

Paying tribute to a person or cause

The NFL made Antonio Brown take his amazing Muhammad Ali tribute cleats off, with the threat of benching him if he didn’t.

In 2015, the NFL fined Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward for writing “Iron Head” on his eyeblack to honor his late father, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, who died of brain cancer.

William Gay and DeAngelo Williams were also fined in 2014 for raising awareness for domestic violence and breast cancer research, respectively.

How dare somebody want to raise awareness for causes!

On the other hand, tributes happen all the time in the NBA, and for any number of causes and people.

Andre Drummond wrote the names of the 26 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims on his sneakers back in 2013.

Every year, Kevin Durant has a pair of “Aunt Pearl” sneakers released in honor of his Aunt Pearl who died of lung cancer.

Ali was one of the greatest athletes to walk the face of the Earth. Many of us have known somebody who has been afflicted with the terrible disease that is cancer. All of us hate when a senseless shooting happens in this country.

Those tributes aren’t going to hurt your league’s brand. If anything, they will help show spectators that these individuals they only see in a competitive environment are people just like us off the floor as well.

Getting creative with uniforms

The NFL has almost no room for error when it comes to uniforms. Everything has to be precise. Each team is given one alternate uniform over the course of a season, and you can’t do anything with your cleats, or a fine will certainly be coming.

In Week 1 of the NFL season DeAndre Hopkins wore a sweet pair of Yeezy cleats. They’ve been one of the more popular sneakers since Kanye West made the switch to Adidas. Hopkins was fined.

This is part of why “pregame cleats” have become a thing in the NFL. It’s all fun and games until that clock starts. Then they’ll take your money, or threaten to take you out of a game entirely.

In the NBA, there’s a variety of different sneakers. It could be for Christmas, Easter, Black History Month, or even just totally random colorways.

These were LeBron James’ Christmas shoes from 2014:

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Dwyane Wade broke out these during the 2016 NBA All-Star Game:

NBA All-Star Game 2016 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In a 2014 game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Nick Young wore a pair of Supreme foamposites by Nike. There’s not a chance these would fly in the NFL — it involved a clothing brand that has absolutely nothing to do with the league.

* * *

The NBA allows its players to not only have fun by celebrating and expressing themselves how they want, but also to be creative. It encourages fans to connect to the players on a level outside of just what goes on between the lines.

That’s not the case in the NFL.

Roger Goodell said last week, “It comes down to balancing a lot of issues, the professional standards that we want to uphold. We do believe that our players are role models and others look at that at the youth level. So that’s important for us to hold that standard up. And it’s part of being a professional. So that’s one element of it.”

That thinking is fine, but there’s not a lot of harm in what’s being done on the football field. LeBron James is arguably the most recognizable athlete in sports, he does a lot of good in the community, and kids idolize him. His signature celebration doesn’t damage his standing — it helps it. Fans see a player who not only dominates on the court, but is also allowed to enjoy himself on it.

That’s good for the game. The NFL’s insistence on curbing it is a bad stance to take. It hurts the league’s reputation with the younger generation, who may be deterred from tuning into a sport that punishes its players for just about any type of creativity or show of individualism.

Instead of holding players to suit-and-tie standards, the NFL should treat it for what it really is.

It’s a game. Let them have fun.