First it was the Big 12 deciding that any Texas opponent who flashes the “Horns Down” gesture would be fined. Mostly everyone agreed that it was a pretty weak move by a football program that claims to have such an elite reputation.
Well… now the NFL is following suit.
Earlier today, the NFL released its annual rule change and points of emphasis video.
In it, the NFL announces several new changes including new parameters for jersey numbers, a new kickoff formation rule, a more detailed explanation of what’s considered “leading with the helmet”, and new guidelines for officials to penalize taunting. That last one bugs me for a multitude of reasons.
1) They don’t actually explain what “taunting” is, but drastically up the punishment for it.
In the heat of the game, players may do things they wouldn’t normally. On a big third-down stop, a defender might stand over the running back he just tackled in the open field for a moment to let everyone know just how big that moment was. Is that a penalty? Probably under the new rules, but we don’t know for sure — and like I said, that’s just the players giving in to the heat of the moment. All the video says is “[any move] that does not display respect to their opponents.” That’s some cryptic wording right there.
Now, I’m not saying we need to have a Key and Peele style “three pumps” ruling, but a little bit of explanation would go a long way. Just offering examples of what would be grounds for a taunting penalty would offer players a chance to think about their actions on the field more closely. You could make an argument that the video itself offers examples such as when Parris Campbell flexed in Myles Jack’s face after rushing for a first down, or Jarvis Landry spiking the ball next to his opponent after a first down reception, but moves like that would still be very questionable calls. How do we know Landry wasn’t spiking the ball in general and his defender just happened to be in that direction?
Is the rule that you just can’t get in your opponents’ face? If so, that’s a terrible rule. That’s how some athletes motivate themselves. That ability to look an opponent in the eye and say, “I’m better than you. I just proved it, and I’m going to continue to prove it on every play” is a powerful motivator, and it’s a shame that some players won’t be able to do that anymore because their opponents can’t stop them.
2) Last season, taunts brought the fans such good storylines
When Tyreek Hill flashed the peace sign as he crossed the goal line against the Buccaneers in Week 12 of last season, the Bucs were obviously mad. However, they couldn’t blame Hill for getting in their faces because Hill was having a monster game. He recorded over 200 yards through the air in the first quarter alone. If the Bucs wanted to stop Hill from taunting them, they had to stop Hill from doing whatever he wanted on the field first. When the Super Bowl came and the Chiefs and Bucs rematched, all eyes were on Hill to repeat what he’d done just a few months earlier. The Bucs’ defense bottled him up, and for most of the game, Hill was a non-factor. As the clock was winding down, and it became clear that Tampa Bay was going to win handily, Bucs’ safety Antoine Winfield Jr. walked up to Tyreek Hill and flashed a peace sign directly in his face.
THAT MOMENT WAS AWESOME! It felt earned, and it was a perfect example of “You want me to shut up? Make me!” The Bucs did, and I guarantee* Hill is never going to flash a peace sign at opposing defenses while he waltzes into the endzone again. The Buccaneers made Hill swallow his pride, and that’s incredible.
With this new ruling, it’s unlikely we’ll get to see a moment like that again. I understand that players need to respect their opponents, but several forms of “taunting” under these new guidelines aren’t really taunting — they are just players hyping themselves up, getting excited over what just happened. It feels good to beat someone around an edge, or to run over a defender for a first down. On the other side, it feels incredible to stop somebody short on fourth and goal. When a player gets up and celebrates directly in their opponents’ face after a moment like that, it’s not disrespectful, it’s more of an “I’m the best!”
It’s an ego trip. That’s not worthy of a penalty.