Bills coach Chan Gailey benched receiver Stevie Johnson on Sunday after Johnson picked up a celebration penalty for displaying a “Happy New Year” message on his undershirt. But while Gailey and Johnson may not have been happy with each other on the sideline Sunday, they agreed about one thing after the game: They question why a flag was thrown.
Gailey said he’d like an explanation from the NFL about why the rule against messages on uniforms hasn’t been enforced uniformly. Gailey noted that in 2010, Johnson lifted up his jersey to reveal a T-shirt with “Why so serious?” written on it, and Johnson wasn’t flagged for that.
“It happened last year,” Gailey said. “He put a message on his shirt and showed his shirt and didn’t get flagged. And he does it this year and gets flagged. Which one is it?”
Johnson agreed, saying that he asked the official for an explanation and wasn’t satisfied with what he was told.
“He said it was excessive celebration, too many people around,” Johnson said on WGR, via SportsRadioInterviews.com. “And used a prop. I didn’t know my undershirt was a prop. With me not being flagged for it last year, I didn’t see why it should’ve been a flag this time. . . . They need to be consistent with the rule. If they would’ve flagged me last year, of course, I never would have done it again.”
Johnson and Gailey are right that the officials haven’t enforced the rule consistently, and they’re right that officials failing to enforce rules consistently is a problem in the NFL. But just because they didn’t flag him last season doesn’t mean they were wrong to flag him this season. The officials apparently didn’t notice the “Why so serious” shirt in 2010, but the league office made clear by fining Johnson that such messages aren’t allowed.
If Johnson and Gailey want to argue that the rules should be changed, and players should have the freedom to celebrate the way they want, that’s a discussion worth having. But unless Johnson succeeds in convincing the NFL to change that rule this offseason, he’d be wise to curtail his celebrations going forward.