Taunting penalties have been a problem in the NFL this season. NFL fans are generally OK with player celebrations, even particularly over-the-top ones. But the league has decided to crack down on them, and their effort to do so has been messy.
Let’s be honest about something. There is a good reason for taunting penalties. Referees need to have control of games, and if players are baiting each other, it could prompt fights, and fights are the easiest, ugliest way for a regular game to turn into a debacle.
But to outlaw taunting, the NFL decided to legislate what “taunting” entails, putting several lists of what could be considered “taunting” into the rulebook. The problem is, “taunting” is in the eye of the taunter and the taunted. Trying to put it into words is futile. Some seemingly benign things that the rulebook will never outlaw will be interpreted as a call to war by a heated NFL player. Other legitimately benign things will cross the lines dictated by the NFL’s rules, and that’s happened a lot this year.
A player throwing a ball at an opponent is clearly taunting, so the NFL made that illegal, leading to a penalty on Terrelle Pryor for trying to throw the ball to a referee and missing. Mock violence should be illegal, so the NFL outlawed a “machine-gun salute,” and a referee used that clause to penalize Josh Norman’s cool little bow-and-arrow celebration. The league outlawed “sexually suggestive acts,” so Antonio Brown’s crotch moves — his tasteful, universally beloved crotch moves — have earned a slew of flags.
The league is not backing down from its wording. In fact, NFL officiating czar Dean Blandino is going to take an effort to make sure every team knows exactly what’s legal and what’s illegal.
We're going to send a tape out in the next week or so and clarify some of these things. But 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. 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.
So, long story short: The NFL’s officiating brass is going to distribute a video to its teams telling them exactly what a “sexually suggestive act” is.
Most likely, this video is going to consist of clips of various celebrations by NFL players with Blandino’s voice explaining whether a certain celebration is or is not considered to be taunting. HOWEVER. There’s also a possibility that this video is just going to be Blandino, alone in a room, staring into the camera, demonstrating sexually suggestive act after sexually suggestive act.
It would go something like this.
[Dean Blandino stares into the camera, thrusting his pelvis over and over again]
... so, as explained previously, this would be considered a violation of Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1, Paragraph C.
[Blandino ceases thrusting. He calmly lies down on the ground, face up, and spreads his legs.]
Now, this is a move every referee is going to be looking for.
I want to watch this tape. (The real tape. Not the one I just imagined. That one sounds disturbing, which is troubling to me, because I invented it.)
The NFL has decided the words “sexually suggestive” are part of football’s rules. Therefore, as a football fan, I demand to know the specifics of what the league considers sexually suggestive. How conventional are the league’s desires? I know what leads to a holding call, and I know that when any part of the ball breaks the plane, it’s a touchdown. And now I need to know what the league considers sexual, so I can understand if a referee’s decision to throw a flag is valid or unjust.