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Marvin Lewis is wrong to criticize the NFL for loosening its celebration penalties

Players expressing joy after touchdowns is the least of the NFL’s problems.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the NFL finally loosened up and decided that it would ease up on celebration penalties. It’s something we’ve all been hoping for.

Unless you’re Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

“I’m not for that at all,” Lewis said via ESPN’s Katherine Terrell. “We had a good standard and the whole standard has always been you want to teach people how to play the game the correct way and go about it the correct way, and that’s not a very good example for young people.”

With the changes, players can now use the ball as a prop, celebrate on the ground, and have group demonstrations. Things like twerking and hip thrusting, however, are still outlawed.

Roger Goodell, who has been a stiff in his own ways, didn’t defend Lewis when asked about the comments on Tuesday afternoon.

“I think the players will prove him wrong on that,” the NFL commissioner said. “I think the players will do this in a way that will be responsible, show good sportsmanship, and do it in a way that, I think, is entertaining but also respectful."

Goodell consulted with players before the celebration rules were relaxed.

“The reality is you know that the players want to celebrate; you know they want to exhibit their individuality and excitement that they're feeling at that point in time. And they're very creative, as we all know.”

For a league that prides itself on toughness, old-school coaches like Lewis can get sensitive when it comes to something as simple as a celebration in the end zone.

Many of today’s celebrations bring culture to the game, connecting fans with faceless players. It could be through dance, memes, or even other sports. It’s what has made a player like Odell Beckham Jr. so appealing to younger fans.

He helped make the whip a sensation in 2015, turning it into a signature celebration during his rookie season. He’s done tributes as well, including ones to Michael Jackson and LeBron James. Even for those who might not enjoy the NFL as much as more dedicated fans, it’s another way of welcoming people to the game.

Despite Lewis’ comments, the rule change was a good way for the NFL to stop trying to pretend it was a suit-and-tie type of business on the field.

If somebody like Mike Tolbert keeping the fridge running is setting a bad example for kids, that sounds like a dreadfully boring household to live in.

Meanwhile, if Lewis was so concerned about setting an example for young people, taking a look at what’s been going on around him would be a good start. The Bengals lost a playoff game in 2016 because they couldn’t keep their cool. Vontaze Burfict has received countless fines as the NFL’s most reckless player. Lewis coaches Adam Jones, who has had plenty of off-the-field issues himself, most recently accepting a plea deal for his January arrest where he was charged with assault and spitting on a jail nurse. He also wouldn’t have drafted Joe Mixon, who punched a woman on camera, during April’s draft.

Celebrating after a touchdown isn’t a bad example for young fans. NFL players do it to express themselves, and more often than not, they do it appropriately. Those who don’t will still be penalized.

If Lewis wants the NFL to set a positive example, focusing on issues like player safety, concussions, and the handling of domestic violence in the league would be a decent starting point.