A funny thing happened about a decade ago. In a moral panic that took place only inside their own head, NFL executives decided to crack down on player celebrations, the moniker “No Fun League” stuck, and everyone just...accepted it and moved on?
There have been more serious and pressing issues in this league (though Joe Buck’s mortified reaction to Randy Moss’s mooning pantomime at Lambeau might indicate otherwise), but none that seemed so ripe for pushback. Who hates celebrations and end zone dances? Who thought it was a good idea to police athletes, playing a violent and emotional sport, from showing their excitement when they succeed? And would have thought the NFL would continue to pick away, move by move, at the list of approved celebrations? Thanks to specific rule changes made over the last few years, props are out. Choreographed celebrations are out. Spinning the ball is out. Dunking the ball through the uprights is out. And yes, a bunch of old white men in suits are here to police your dance moves to make sure they’re not too provocative.
Antonio Brown got down after scoring his second touchdown in the Steelers’ 38-16 win in Washington, and you can almost see the resignation in the stride of the back judge as he reaches for his flag.
Brown clearly violated the three-pump rule, as elucidated by Key & Peele.
But no, actually, the NFL rulebook covers exactly this, with no wiggle room. (Remember, this is the league that attempts to clear up a confusing catch rule by adding to the rule every year. Of course they’re going to legislate dancing.)
Let’s go to the rulebook, 12.3.1(c)(4) to be precise:
Violations of (c) will be penalized if any of the acts occur anywhere on the field. These acts include, but are not limited to: throat slash; machine-gun salute; sexually-suggestive gestures; prolonged gyrations; or stomping on a team logo.
It’s good that a league that features fighter jet flyovers and cheerleader bikini calendars and nonstop human brutality would want to shield our children from sex and violence.
It was a rough weekend for happy players. Carolina’s Trai Turner received a taunting call for jumping up and down. Michael Crabtree got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for imitating Kenny Powers. The Bucs and Cardinals were flagged for celebrating in sync.
I fully understand that I am pissing into the wind here—the NFLPA has much more pressing concessions to fight for—but I wish there would be wider pushback on the league’s baffling insistence on limiting how players can show their emotion. No one is harmed by an end zone dance, and no one worth paying attention to is offended, and the game is better when the personalities are allowed to shine through. Football is more fun when players are allowed to have it.