The NFL has long had issues with individuality and personality. In the league’s view, football should be played in a specific way, with very specific decorum — which is really quite remarkable in a sport where violence is so baked into the DNA of the game. Now, the league is going a step further to enforce their beliefs.
The league informed teams Tuesday that taunting is being elevated from simply being a penalty, to a “point of emphasis” for the upcoming season. It takes the current structure in place and adds dramatic punishment to players who violate the taunting rules. Now, a player who commits two taunting penalties in a game will be immediately ejected, with the possibility of a fine and suspension being levied at the league’s discretion.
In a video sent to teams by Rich McKay, competition committee chairman, he outlined the league’s stance.
“We saw an increase in actions that clearly are not within the spirit and intent of this rule is not representative of the respect to opponents and others on the field. Game officials have been instructed to strictly enforce the taunting rules.”
The league’s stance is somewhat understandable
The forces in charge of professional football are well aware that a massive decline in taking place in youth interest. This, along with fear of lawsuits, likely fueled the league’s moves to make football safer with stiffer targeting penalties.
I don’t know if anyone sees professional football players taunting each other and says “well, my kid isn’t playing THAT,” but it seems the league believes it’s true. In reality, nobody has been turned away from the NFL because a player has taunted another. You might dislike that player sure, even hate them — but that should be okay.
The NFL still doesn’t seem to grasp what fans want
Like the issue with celebrations years ago, the league is still intent on pushing its homogenized, sanitized brand of football. It makes sense as a reliable, guaranteed corporate product sold as a commodity to broadcasters, where they want as little room for surprise as possible, but it kills the spirit of the game in the process.
Players need to have the freedom to show their personality. It’s not only a way to show their passion and fun for the game, but a core part of building their personal brands. So too, fans need to have the freedom to love, hate and have every feeling in between about these players.
Banning celebration and taunting, all in an effort to have players play “the right way” makes football boring. Think of the most iconic players and teams in history. It’s not performance that defines their perception, but actions. This can either be through outward actions like the Raiders of the 1980s, or an inward air of superiority like the Patriots that led to them becoming reviled. THAT is good for the sport.
Feeling, emotion, investment. That’s what makes us love football, and whether it’s a player dunking over the goalpost following a touchdown, or mocking a quarterback after a sack, those moments make us feel something.
As it stands the NFL push to ban personality has one potentially dire outcome: Apathy. That’s far more of an existential threat to football than taunting ever is.