Has it been working as intended?
Just as we all expected, the NFL’s new emphasis on taunting has been a disaster over the first two weeks of the season. For background: the league announced in August that it was instructing officials to “strictly enforce the taunting rules” in the interest of making a “strong statement regarding respect among everyone on the field.”
It sounded like a bad idea when it was announced, and the early results have been as awful as anyone could have expected. Basically any interaction between members of opposing teams is enough to earn a 15-yard penalty, as this video shows:
Fans hate it. Players hate it. So why is the league doing it? Washington coach Ron Rivera is one of the few people who can provide insight into the rationale behind the crackdown. He is one of the three coaches who, along with two owners, two team presidents and two general managers, make up the NFL’s competition committee, which recommended the emphasis on taunting. He was asked Tuesday why he supported the new focus on taunting and said it was about limiting retribution.
“We’re trying to prevent the bigger things. We’ve had this example where one guy taunts a guy and then the guy comes back for a little payback and the next thing you know, you’ve got a big fight on your hands,” Rivera said. “You’ve got guys coming from left field hitting each other. And that’s really what, to me I think, the referees are relevant for—they’re just trying to get it quieted down. And that’s really what—I mean, you can do the celebration. They sent a tape out explaining exactly what’s taunting and what’s not. I think if you look at the tape and you follow the tape, then it makes sense.
“I mean, I’m all for the celebrations. Remember, we [the Panthers] were the 2015 team that everybody was mad at because we were dabbing and stuff like that, taking pictures on the sideline. So, it’s about—you want these guys to keep their personality. You want them to be who they are because these guys are explosive players that make dynamic plays. But the intent is so that somebody doesn’t do something that gets somebody to come back with a little retribution. You don’t want that. You don’t want somebody out for revenge. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.
“And, again, whether we want to [be] or not, we are examples. We’re role models. So if you’re going to do something, do it within the rules. Get up and do your ball drop, do your dab, or your dance, or whatever. But don’t do it toward somebody. Don’t step over somebody or drag your leg over somebody. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.
“We’re not trying to stop the players from having fun. We’re just trying to make sure we don’t end up with a brawl on our hands. Because that’s the other thing; we don’t want that. This is a great sport. We’ve got a great fan base. People enjoy watching the games. And there are some that like watching the fights; but we don’t need the fights. We really don’t. And we don’t need anybody getting hurt unnecessarily.”
Rivera is right that the league should be trying to eliminate fights, but are the interactions that drew taunting flags in Week 2 really the sorts of things that spark brawls? Usually when you see a fight in the NFL it’s because of unnecessary physical contact, like a late hit or pushing and shoving after the play. Watch this compilation of fights from the 2020 season and you won’t see a single one instigated by simple jawing. The intent behind the taunting emphasis may have been right, but it’s created more problems than it’s solved.
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