When was the last time you enjoyed yourself at work? Celebrated a team victory or even just did a joyful dance when the bosses provided lunch? Did your boss penalize you for it and tell you that every time you celebrate an accomplishment you’ll be punished in some form? Probably not, and luckily for you, you’re not in the NFL.
The league is heading down a robotic and systematic road where players lose not only who they are, but the love of the game. With flags for celebrations on the rise, the message is that players can’t do what they’re being paid the big bucks to do — entertain. But before we look at the current state of celebrations in the NFL, let’s dive into how this all started. Over the course of 30 years, the NFL has slowly but surely removed any sense of personality of players. When researching the history of touchdown celebrations and the increase of NFL control, two names stood out: Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson.
To give examples of the two, Owens was one of the league’s flashiest players and often times went overboard in his celebrations. During his time with the San Francisco 49ers, Owens celebrated a touchdown reception by running to the middle of the field and standing on the star with his arms stretched out. Johnson is no stranger to celebration distaste. How about using the pylon to putt the football? Do you guys think both instances are too much? Might depend on if it’s your team or how much you want to be entertained.
The first declaration against celebrations dates to 1984, in which the NFL rule states “any prolonged, excessive, or premeditated celebration by individual players or groups of players will be construed as unsportsmanlike conduct.” The general rule was a reflection of Washington Redskins “Fun Bunch”, who may have had a little too much fun during their time together. If you’re too young to remember, take a look at their celebration below.
But of course, since then the players stopped doing so much as group celebrations and become individual. In 2009, the NFL decided to become stricter, furthering the rule by stating per ESPN, “In a vote of 29-3, the owners gave officials power to penalize a team 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff for excessive celebrations anywhere on the field. Spikes, dunks, Lambeau Leaps, spins, dances and simple celebrations will be allowed. But penalties will be given for any celebration other than that.”
and the quote after it was in place?
“I’m looking forward to seeing what Chad [Johnson] will come to celebrate with now,” Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy told the AP after the vote.
Just in case you’re wondering what Dungy is referring to:
But honestly, who is this hurting? Any major league sport looks to be entertaining. As fans, some of us spend personal savings to attend games and let’s not even discuss the cost to Super Bowl. Cost of the average NFL ticket has increased by at least 30% causing fans to become cost conscious when seeing their favorite teams/players. So shouldn’t the game be as fun as possible? Touchdown by players, especially in their hometown can increase fan enjoyment and make the money spent worthwhile. So why such harshness by the NFL? Let’s discuss egos.
Between opposing teams, and more soundly, the coaches, touchdown celebrations can seem like you’re throwing the win in the opponent’s face; like you’re laughing at them for losing. And while it’s totally understandable, men and their egos, Cam Newton’s reaction is best when explaining his lack of care for the opposing team’s distaste in his moves “Stop me”. That’s it. If you don’t want the opposing team taunting you, keep them from the end zone. And while Goodell gets most of the hate towards NFL rules, he isn’t the only one implanting these, as stated beforehand, these rules require the voting of owners and it’s more of them that are tired of personal conquests. As referenced by ESPN, former NFL coach, Marty Schottenhimer, said,
“I think it’s needed. The game is about the team, not the individual.”
But, Goodell doesn’t escape the hate either, former Saints WR, Joe Horn, had this to say about the commissioner,
“Roger Goodell wants to control,” Horn said. “Referees think you’re overly celebrating and they throw flags. It’s either going to count against your team or it’s going to count out of your pocket. It’s control man. They want to control. He controls the players.”
So, is the NFL really a No Fun League? It looks that way, but are the owners and commissioner, the only ones to blame? How about we cut players, or the NFLPA, into this equation; let’s say they deserve 30% of fault. During the bargaining of the CBA, players and their representatives have the option of requesting the temperament of the NFL, so why don’t players experience their want for entertaining? Money seems to be the focus of all their bargaining, and rightfully so, the NFL pays their employees horribly in comparison to other professional athletes, but the way these fines are set up for celebrating? It’s time the NFLPA introduce a new requirement, tone down on the fines and let them entertain. The NFL is a billion dollar company, in no way are they hurting for money.
The NFL is also experiencing its most outspoken players yet, and with strong voices such as Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, they might want to get a handle on things.
“A lot of times when you are dealing with the league, you know, they want a good game — but only as long as they are making money. People say they don’t like this, if they stop watching for any reason, they will change the game. They will change the rules. They will do anything they can to make sure people will continue to watch. That’s one thing we are all cognizant of, because that’s the one (bit of) leverage we have.”
The NFL is going to have to learn to grow in all aspects of the league which include growing with fans, the culture and most importantly, their players. Taming the identity of teams and their players, are what drives not only fans away, but the love players have for this game. With rising risks of playing football, the little freedom they do have in entertaining, the league seems to snatch that away as well. Understandably, giving someone fake CPR should warrant a flag, but let the guys have fun. Salsa dancing, twerking or even spiking the ball, are all apart of why we love the game so much. Kids see the joy in their favorite players, and often times want to carry that in their own lives. If the NFL continues on this path, they’ll lose more than they bargain for and soon, no one will be watching. No one wants robots on the field. Let the guys have fun.