The NFL needs to make up its mind about taunting rules

By: Jordan Kendall, Senior Staff Writer

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

Every year, the NFL introduces new rules they think will make the game better. Some additions, such as loosening the jersey number restrictions, are great ideas. One of the most significant changes was the stricter enforcement of taunting. Based on the calls they have made so far, I have a lot of problems with it. For this week’s column, I will give my thoughts on the new emphasis on taunting.

The NFL rulebook defines taunting as, “using baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams.” 

Their official definition seems very vague and up to the referee’s interpretation. This is one of my problems with the emphasis on taunting. Official A may see an action as the emotions of the game, while Official B might see it as taunting. 

There are plenty of acts or words that could “engender ill will,” but at what point should it be considered taunting? If a running back picks up a first down and points forward to signal it, and he happens to be pointing at a defender, is that really taunting him? I think he earned the right to celebrate. 

As long as the player does not make contact with an opponent, I have no problem with them celebrating, even if it’s targeted at the other team. Spiking the ball, pointing to signal a first down or any other celebration should be allowed and encouraged. 

Football is an emotional game, and you should feel excited and feel like you need to celebrate when you make a play. I feel the same way about end zone and big play celebrations as I do about bat flips in baseball. If you don’t like it, don’t give them a reason to celebrate. Don’t let them score, don’t let them get a first down. 

I also have a problem with how they have enforced taunting so far. In the season opener between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen was called for taunting. He was penalized for saying something to Cowboys defensive lineman Carlos Watkins. They were shoving after the play ended and Watkins tried to punch Jensen. In response, Jensen said something, and both players were penalized. However, because a penalty was called on each team, they offset. 

It makes no sense to me how yelling and punching can be called offsetting penalties. Trying to punch someone seems like a much worse act than whatever Jensen said. By saying they offset, the NFL is saying they consider these actions equally bad. If you want to enforce taunting go ahead, but there needs to be a way to determine if the taunting action needs to be penalized. 

One of the officials, umpire Terry Killens, went viral for his reaction to having to call taunting. I think his face said it all; he didn’t want to call taunting but felt forced to by the NFL. If the officials don’t feel a certain action is taunting, they shouldn’t feel forced to call it. Even with an emphasis on taunting, they should be able to determine if a celebratory action is excessive or not. 
I find it ironic that the NFL loosened the rules in 2017 to allow more celebrations, and in four years they changed their mind. Do they want players to celebrate or not? If they do, the NFL needs to make it clear what is allowed and what is taunting/excessive celebration. If they don’t want players celebrating in the near future, it’s going to take a lot out of the game that makes it special.

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