15 yards for excessive celebration – or why fighting should be in every major sport (just kidding)

October 20, 2006

It’s getting harder for me to watch football games these days.  It is not uncommon to see an act of celebration after every play. 

A defensive lineman stops the running back for a one-yard loss, springs to his feet (however fast a 300 pound lineman can do so) and does a little dance move on the field.  A receiver catches a 15-yard pass, is tackled, and gets up only to go down on one knee and make the referee’s first down signal.  A running back burrows through the goal-line defense to score a touchdown to bring his team to the wrong end of a 35-6 score, and looks like he’s possessed dancing back to the sidelines.  And of course there is the cornerback who deflects a pass away from the wide receiver, and spends the entire walk back to the line of scrimmage jawing with his opponent.

I’m not against celebrations, per se, but it seems like more and more players are transforming their post-play actions from sharing a fun moment with a teammate or the crowd to a self-centered taunting of the opponent.  I feel that celebrating can be time appropriate.  If it’s the fourth quarter and your team is up by two, and you make a sack that pulls the other team out of field goal range, I can see running back to your huddle and sharing a high five or chest bump with your teammates.  If it’s the first quarter and you catch that 12-yard slant for a first down, keep your mouth shut and get back to the huddle.

There are public service announcements that tell kids to be good sports (and don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of these in the NFL as well), and then when the game resumes you’ve got any number of characters in the game doing the exact opposite.  It seems to me that too many players are worrying about perceived disrespect and how they can get back at an opponent for the slight. 

When kids see these outrageous displays, they emulate this behavior.  Professional athletes, despite the wishes of many, are role models to many children.  How soon until we see a field full of 11-year olds re-enacting the scene that unfolded this past Saturday involving the University of Miami and Florida International.  Competition brings out the best in some, and the worst in others.

What can stop the players from these self-serving displays?  Stronger parental upbringing?  Peer pressure?  I’m not likely to believe that these will help the current situation.  You’ll always have “good kids” and “bad kids”, doing as they learned.  I’m one who believes that the only way to control this type of behavior is through the organization.  In football, this depends on the level of play. 

In college, I believe that the coaches have a great deal of responsibility in making sure that their team practices good sportsmanship.  Limiting playing time based on bad behavior can be a great motivator.  This accomplishes the goal two ways.  First, the obvious negative reinforcement.  A player may be less likely to act out in favor of actually playing.  Secondly, if the offending individual is not on the field, he can’t commit the act. 

At the professional level, I don’t believe that this can be acheived as easily.  Players are no longer performing to get to the next level.  They’re getting paid big money to go out and be the best.  Cutting playing time likely won’t work as the player gets paid whether he’s sitting on the bench or hitting the field.  I’m not sure what the solution to this problem would be at this level.  My gut feeling is that levying personal foul penalties for anything resembling taunting would develop some level of accountability in players.  Last weekend, Larry Johnson tackled Troy Polamalu by his hair (not a penalty) and then hung on and (sort of) lifted him off the ground by his hair (certainly a penalty).  He was flagged, and his team suffered as a result.

Why not take the standard and broaden the enforcement?  In my NFL (which will never exist), a player could celebrate in a reasonable manner (no obscene gestures, etc.) after every play as long as it is with his teammates.  After you’re tackled or if you’ve scored, you don’t flip the ball at the opponent.  After you make a sack or a big hit, head back to the huddle to have a head butt and high five with your teammates.  If you break the rules (no taunting), it’s a 15-yard penalty.  Do this enough, and we’ll see how you like it in the locker room after the game, regardless of how much money you make.

Trash talking is a part of any competition.  Whether it’s a sporting event, card game (I do this all the time), whatever… it happens.  So why do I not care as much about trash talking as the obvious taunting?  Probably because the trash talk doesn’t translate to my living room.  By this I mean that I know they’re doing it, but I can’t hear it.  Physical taunts (including the facemask-to-facemask jawing) do translate to my living room, and to the living room of every youngster who watches and plays football.

I’m rambling, but you’ve made it this far so let’s keep going.  My next question is why don’t I see this kind of behavior in every major sport, or at least as much as I do in football.

First, basketball.  Okay, it’s in basketball.  I don’t watch the NBA (in large part because of the selfish behavior which changes the game dramatically from the college arena), so I don’t care as much.  But from what I’ve heard, David Stern (NBA commissioner) is cracking down on player disrespect to officials this year.  I think this is a good move, but basketball still has a long way to go.

Next, baseball.  Now we’re getting closer to my point.  A batter will generally (though not always) not show up a pitcher.  Why?  Because the next time he steps into the batter’s box, he doesn’t want a 95 mile per hour fastball in his ear.  And pitchers will generally not be too outrageous (unnecessarily) in pitch location because as long as they don’t play in the sissy American League (even still, good luck Tigers!) they have to face the same fastball to the ear.  Fear is a big motivator, and nobody in their right mind thinks that getting hit by a pitch is fun.

Lastly (I thought I’d never get here), hockey.  Why don’t hockey players strut around after a big hit, key assist, or short-handed goal?  Because they would probably get their ass kicked.  Not figuratively, like a locker room verbal tirade from a concerned teammate.  More literally.  Like when the offending player stepped out on the ice next, he has a neon sign flashing “I’d like to have my face beat in, any takers?”  Hockey players can regulate their behavior within the rules of the game.  Yes, penalties will be assessed for the fist fight, but a player likely won’t do it again soon.

My arguments are weak, I’m bothered too much by something that likely won’t change, and I’ve taken way too long to get my point across (taunting sucks).  All valid points.  But I got it off my chest, if only to ask: how many times will a Buckeye celebrate in an unsportsmanlike manner in any given Saturday game?


One comment

  1. It’s funny that you mention the thing about NFL celebrations involving teammates, because I’m writing a post right now about the same thing. It is actually a specific rule in the NFL that it is considered an excessive celebration if more than one player does a co-ordinated dance together. I know this because a couple weeks ago the Giants’ defence started a new celebration dance, but the league fined them and said from now on they can only do it one at a time. Go figure, huh?

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