I’m going to answer my colleague John Hoefling’s question from yesterday afternoon. Why does the NFL care about taunting? Because it scares old, white people.
That’s it. This isn’t about respect or sportsmanship, not in a real sense. It’s about the sense of those things that old codgers have, who tut-tut piercings and tattoos and hairstyles and try to pretend it’s not racist (I doubt they pretend anymore). The “crackdown” on taunting is a bone thrown to the Abe Simpson’s of the world still setting their watch to Johnny Unitas’ buzz cut.
While the NFL can’t get away with doing this in every facet, and will have to cater more and more to younger fans brought up in a culture where trash-talk and acting out are just the norm and hardly frowned upon, this is one they’re clinging to. Nothing makes old white people more uncomfortable, or gets white lawyers loosening their ties (that’s the combo that makes NFL rules after all), then things that appear to be “acting Black.” That’s how they’d put it. These are still the people who genuinely think that a Black family moving in next door will cause a daily Royal Rumble on their front lawn, and seeing two players get in each others’ faces only reminds them of that irrational fear.
So the NFL will play their game, and get nods of approval from that section of the fanbase that threw their canes at the TV during the whole Colin Kaepernick saga or BLM protests without too much blowback. Flags thrown for taunting will reassure them that the game is good and proper and the one they remember. Little do they realize that not every set of opponents yapping is Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher or Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan. These guys hug at the end of every game for the most part.
Then again, men hugging probably makes these fans uncomfortable, too. Which is weird, as they’ve just spent three hours watching guys in spandex grapple and pile on each other. But let’s not dig too deep into that hypocrisy today.