It’s really becoming more and more appropriate to call the NFL the “No Fun League.”
On Oct. 30, Earl Thomas returned a fumble for a touchdown in Seattle’s 25-20 loss at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. After scoring, the Seahawks safety hugged the referee. He was penalized 15 yards for it.
Sure, you can say that players shouldn’t be touching referees at all, but Thomas explained after the game that he was just caught up in the moment and the excitement of the touchdown and that’s how he reacted, according to Fox Sports.
Thomas is not the first player to be punished for a celebration. The NFL made it a point of emphasis to have referees around the league crackdown on excessive celebration as “unsportsmanlike conduct.” According to ESPN, flags for unsportsmanlike conduct were up 56 percent through the first four weeks of the season, They haven’t slowed down since.
Antonio Brown was penalized for twerking. Josh Norman and Brandon Cooks were penalized for shooting a fake bow and arrow. Vernon Davis was penalized for shooting the football through the field goal posts. The Giants’ Owa Odighizuwa was penalized and fined $12,154 for taking a fake picture of fellow teammate Landon Collins in the end zone. Odell Beckham Jr. was flagged for taking his helmet off after he already reached the sidelines.
It’s getting to the point where if a player seems to react in any way or show some emotion and excitement, they’re getting penalized for it.
It’s not only celebrations, but an increase in taunting calls. If someone celebrates a big hit or a great play in a way that’s just a little bit too offensive, that’s a 15-yard penalty and the play is coming back. Those penalties can cost a team a game or points, like it did in the Browns-Ravens game on Sept. 18.
Terrelle Pryor caught a 20-yard pass to get to the 10-yard line with the Browns trailing by five points with 30 seconds remaining. While trying to flip the ball to the referee to place it for the next play, it hit an opponent, resulting in a flag. No catch and the Browns were backed up again.
While the NFL might be doing this to try and maintain a professional look or to promote sportsmanship, it’s really sending a message of control. It’s a display of power and trying to reel in the so-called “childish” players.
The league can argue all it wants about setting examples for the young athletes out there and trying to prevent them from seeing the “oh-so-terrible” celebrations, but it seems pretty contradictory when the camera pans to cheerleaders in tiny outfits while the league encourages kids to play a sport that can damage their brains.
Some of these players have waited all of their lives to showcase their talent and do so on the world’s biggest stage, so why take away their opportunity to express themselves and celebrate a little bit? The NFL has gone way too far in trying to limit celebrations to the point where the blatant display of power and control is becoming uncomfortable and insulting for fans and players alike.
Bobby Bevilacqua is a journalism major from Eastchester, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rpb725.