Apparently, saying something about someone’s mother will get you flagged but not fined.
The comment, which came at the end of the third quarter of Sunday’s game between Detroit and Cleveland, turned a first and 10 for the Lions at the Cleveland 42 into a first and 25 from the Detroit 43, at a time when the Lions trailed the Browns, 13-7. The Lions did not get another first down on the drive, which ended with a punt.
The foul called by the officials was unsportsmanlike conduct. The league had explained that words would not trigger a taunting foul under the controversial “point of emphasis” applied to that rule this year. However, the rule regarding unsportsmanlike conduct expressly encompasses “using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League.”
That’s a vague standard with a broad range of potential recipients of “abusive, threatening, or insulting language.” In theory, a player can be penalized for yelling at a teammate, if the words are regarded by the official who hears the remark as “abusive, threatening, or insulting.”
In Jackson’s case, whatever he said prompted a flag but not a financial penalty. Presumably, the league office asked the officiating crew to explain what Jackson had been heard saying. Whatever it was, it wasn’t sufficiently “abusive, threatening, or insulting” to attract a fine.
Whatever the reason for throwing a flag but not imposing a fine, rough talk is the kind of thing that happens routinely on a football field. It’s enforced by luck or happenstance or really good hearing by the officials. It creates too much discretion, too many ways for an official who is determined to over-officiate to do so, because if the official pays close enough attention, something eventually will be heard.
The thing that was heard coming from Jackson’s mouth didn’t get him fined. That outcome only underscores the question of whether he should have been flagged at all — and ultimately what those 15 yards of field position at that stage of the game did to impact the ability of the Lions to get a win.