Stop the taunting already.
That’s not just meant for NFL players. The overreaction on social media and among broadcast pundits to the NFL’s point of emphasis on the topic has been, well, as nasty as some of the deeds and comments on the field.
Yes, there have been some 15-yard penalty calls that don’t seem logical. That’s often what happens when the league pinpoints an officiating issue or rule that it wants stressed. It has happened with the likes of launching and hits on defenceless players and quarterbacks through the years.
What’s going on now is something pro (and college) football has needed for a while.
“I have a lot of respect for it in regards to, when the whistle blows, have respect for your opponent,” Jets coach Robert Saleh says. “Call it old school, whatever you want to call it, but there’s a regard for the opponent that you’re playing and you expect that same regard. In between, when the play’s rolling it’s yeah, win your one-on-ones, but when that whistle blows just have intensity, but have intensity with your teammates. …
“I agree with it. Always respect the game and respect your opponent. You can have a little banter once in a while, but to be demonstrative and to show up your opponent – call me old school with regard to keeping it classy.”
Classy or simply quiet.
In recent years, the trash talk and gesturing in football has tended to go overboard. There’s nothing wrong with the impromptu or choreographed celebrations – the league finally recognized that after years of opposition that made the statement “the NFL stands for No Fun League” seem accurate. Those actions are not what this is about.
The point of emphasis is about, as Saleh says, respect, and the NFL has no plans to back off emphasizing that.
Former league officiating chief Dean Blandino notes that all points of emphasis tend to lead to a rash of whistles. There were nearly a dozen flags for taunting in Week 2, which he says is too high.
“This comes down to the competition committee and the membership [owners], they look at points of emphasis and then it is on to the officiating department, the officials, to implement it, and sometimes maybe it is an overcorrection,” Blandino said during his segment on SiriusXM NFL Radio’s The Blitz.
“Are we going too far? That is what Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell [NFL officiating senior vice-presidents] are going to do this week. They’ll look at those taunting calls and say, ‘Okay, that is too quick, we want it to be more prolonged, we want it to be more obvious.
“From what I saw, some of those might need just a little tweak: That is not enough, that is not a 15-yard penalty. The officials take that direction and they apply it going forward. That is what I imagine will happen this week and we won’t see another uptick of taunting penalties.”
Coaches across the NFL certainly hope so, but the onus should not be on the people in striped shirts in a sport so difficult to officiate. The obligation is on the those coaches to emphasize sportsmanship – and on the players to heed them.
It’s really quite simple. Players can silently turn their backs to the opposition, walk away, and not give the officials any reason to throw a flag. When they do so, they deliver the right message.
“I haven’t personally looked at any of the calls so far, [but] I agree with the idea. Sportsmanship is very important, [and] the way we treat each other is very important,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh says. “I think the NFL is out in front in so many ways, you know? We’re high profile. Kids watch us all the time. So, the way we treat one another on the field is very important.”
That’s the approach Titans coach Mike Vrabel takes, too – adding that celebrating with teammates avoids the risk of damaging your own team’s chances.
“The intent of that is that the actions that are directed toward the opponent have no room in our game,” says Vrabel, a long-time NFL linebacker. “There are a lot of kids that watch our football games. Finger pointing, getting in a guy’s face, pointing your finger at him, flexing on him, standing over the top of him, those are things that I believe, and I was taught – there is a way to celebrate. No one is trying to take any kind of celebration or having fun out of this game, it is an emotional game.
“I point it out to our players, we make a play, go celebrate with the guy that made the play. We have nothing to say to the opponent. Somebody else made the play, go celebrate with your teammates. That is the message I am trying to send whether I agree with what they call or not call. That has always been the case.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, a member of the competition committee, bluntly predicts: “The players will adjust – they always do. They better adjust quickly, specifically speaking of mine.”