Is the NFL's taunting penalty good for the league?


Fact Box

  • The National Football League (NFL) was founded in 1920 in Canton, Ohio, as the American Professional Football Association. 
  • Merriam-Webster defines taunting as “to reproach or challenge in a mocking or insulting manner: jeer at.”
  • NFL players penalized for taunting can pay “up to $10,300 on a first offense. The fine for a second offense is $15,450.” However, all fines can be appealed.
  • As of November 22, 2021, there were 31 taunting penalties issued to NFL players.

Jimmy (No)

NFL officials justified the uptick in taunting penalties this season by claiming they are 'protecting players from unnecessary risk' while keeping the game fair. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles or Seattle Seahawks--teams burned by the questionable calls--how fair the rule is. 'It's almost like we have to play football quietly,' lamented Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett.

The issue is the implementation of the rule. These vaguely defined infractions are left 'up to the discretion of the referees.' This discretion can be racist and another example of the criminalization of 'Black joy.' In a league where players are a majority-minority, the NFL's decidedly White power structure has an outsized influence.

Players and fans stand united against the new rule. The NFLPA supports 'the removal of this point of emphasis immediately,' while fans have lashed out online--rekindling the 'No Fun League' moniker. Though the NFL is big business, polling suggests a 10% drop in football fandom with Gen Z. As the NBA continues nipping at its heels, disregarding the overwhelming consensus against taunting could be detrimental to the NFL's bottom line.

Ultimately, the NFL Competition Committee says the rule is in place to 'promote good sportsmanship,' which begs the question: who is responsible for doling out this lesson? A national survey reveals three quarters of parents and coaches think, 'teaching sportsmanship is the responsibility of parents,' rendering concern over NFL employees and sportsmanship a moot point. Let professional athletes play the games, and let parents teach their children the game of life.

Samir (Yes)

It is said that sports and war have a lot in common. Terms like victory, defeat, offense, defense, strengths, weaknesses, and strategies are valid for both. Businessman Ted Turner famously described sports as 'like a war without the killing.' But how true is that?

The NFL has come down hard on taunting this year. It wants football players to respect the rules of engagement and cease any 'baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams.' 

American football is a full-contact sport. Anything that minimizes the likelihood of players having a go at each other is a good thing. And Washington head coach Ron Rivera certainly agrees.

Reforms like these that try to remove taunting and maybe even take some of the 'fun' out of the game may seem unpopular at first. But these rules are decided by the NFL Competition Committee and the Coaches' Subcommittee via a 'systematic and consensus-oriented process,' that has the league’s and players’ best interests in mind. NFL executive Troy Vincent apprised AP of the results--an ultimate decline in taunting incidents on the field and a new awareness amongst players about the 'game-changing penalties for a selfish act.' 

It is also important to note that professional players have a huge following. They are icons who need to serve as better examples for fans--especially the kids who look up to them. Ravens coach John Harbaugh feels the same way, saying the new rule reinforces that 'the way we treat each other on the field is very important. It's about respect.”

Harsh as they are, the NFL's new rules on taunting may change attitudes on the field for the better.

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