For the second time since 2014, the NFL has made its longstanding taunting rule a point of emphasis. The NFL won’t be de-emphasizing that any time soon.
Via Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the league has “no immediate plans” to instruct the Competition Committee to modify the enforcement of the rule.
Per Maske, the league believes that the application of the rule is “going as planned,” and that “players will adjust.”
The problems have arisen not from the decision to ask officials to actually enforce the rule as written but from the failure of the league to properly explain the situation before news emerged of the league once again telling the officials to enforce the rule. Too many people who are griping about the rule refuse to understand what it does and doesn’t prohibit.
It doesn’t prohibit celebration. It does prohibit celebrating in the face of an opponent. The goal is to prevent the player on the wrong end of the taunting from looking for ways to settle the score later, maybe with a cheap shot or a late hit. Which could then escalate things, eventually leading to a brouhaha.
Washington coach Ron Rivera and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin both explained the situation extremely well during Tuesday press conferences. Via Maske, Patriots coach Bill Belichick provided his own viewpoint during a Monday spot on WEEI.
“In general, I don’t think there’s a place for taunting in the game,” Belichick said. “I think that’s poor sportsmanship and it leads to other things. It leads to retaliation. And then where do you draw the line? And so I think the whole idea of the rule is to kind of nip it in the bud and not let it get started. And I’m in favor of that.”
Players can still celebrate. In 2017, the so-called No Fun League dramatically relaxed the rules regarding celebrations. But the league doesn’t want celebrations to be directed at an opponent, to prevent the kind of tit-for-tat that could trigger a full-blown fracas that could expose players to potential injury.
It’s that simple. And those with platforms or influence should resist the temptation to throw red meat to the least common denominator crowd (“IT’S RUINING THE GAME!“) and understand what the league is trying to achieve.
And, yes, these are things the league should have been saying and doing from a P.R. perspective in May, June, or July. It’s not something that the league should simply hope that some in the media will properly explain at a time when the outcry has become an avalanche.