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Eisenberg: Excuse Me, But NFL's New Celebration Rules Seem Like Parody


I'm sorry, but when I read about the NFL's new, more relaxed approach to on-field celebrations, I halfway wondered if The Onion was behind it.

I know, it's a serious subject … I mean, it is, right? … but when my wife, a teacher, said she noticed similarities between the NFL's new policy and the rules that govern her preschool classroom, I couldn't help but consider the possibility that it was a parody.

For instance, while celebrations now permitted include "using the football as a prop" after a touchdown, anything mimicking the use of weapons will still draw a flag.

Insinuating weaponry is strictly taboo in preschool, I'm told.

The NFL also is not going to allow "offensive demonstrations, celebrations that are prolonged and delay the game, and those directed at an opponent." That's basically an adult translation of the preschool credo, "Be nice to your neighbor."

On the other hand, "celebrating on the ground" and "group demonstrations" are now welcomed in the NFL, according to a league statement. I'm old enough to remember when group demonstrations were the last thing any institution wanted to encourage, but I guess times change.

Anyway, as I understand it, writhing on the ground is now in, unless you writhe the wrong way. And an inoffensive group demonstration is now in, even welcomed – I'm waiting to hear if players are hiring choreographers to plot routines – but if that inoffensive demonstration goes on too long, it still might get flagged.

I have to be honest: I have some concerns about how all this is going to play out.

I get that the idea is to loosen up the No Fun League image and give players more room to express themselves. Commissioner Roger Goodell is doing it to a) make games more interesting on television, where ratings have sagged, and b) improve the league's relationship with the players, who bristle at fines levied during the season.

I'm fine with all that and welcome the change. Today's players envision themselves as entertainers, and as Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said this week, it "makes sense" to let them put on a show and have fun as long as they aren't trash-talking opponents or connoting anything violent or sexually explicit.

The players obviously are happy about it. "We don't want to go too crazy, just a little crazy," Ravens receiver Mike Wallace said.

My concern is that while the league may have done its best to lay down a clear, common-sense policy, there's still a whole lot of gray area to interpret. Did you see what Goodell told the Associated Press about talking to different people about how far the players should be allowed to go?

"Everyone has a different idea [of] where the line is," the commissioner said.

Uh, oh.

Differences of opinion along those lines are the seed from which trouble grows.

I can already envision the day when a game gets decided by a referee determining that a player was or wasn't twerking, or that he did or didn't mimic firing a weapon, and the other side is outraged, and we all wind up watching the celebration on super-slow replay to decide if a flag was warranted.

That scenario actually would qualify as life imitating art. A few years ago,* *comedians Key and Peele put out a screamingly hilarious video about a player who keeps getting flagged for thrusting his pelvis three times after scoring a touchdown when the rules "clearly stipulate" that only two thrusts are permitted.

That's where we are now, and it's the real NFL, not a parody. Officials are obviously going to be more lenient about celebrations, but now that specific descriptions and acts constitute the letter of the law, arguments could erupt. Was that an "offensive" or "prolonged" celebration? A violent or peaceful pantomime?

Oh, well. We're already a nation of replay experts, hooked on watching plays again, making the call on whether a flag was or wasn't warranted, and seeing if the officials agree. It's the game within the game, the reason why we watch cop shows and mysteries, to see if justice is served.

Now we'll be judging something as non-football-oriented as an elaborately choreographed dance routine. Was it unsportsmanlike? Offensive? Chill?

Welcome to pro football, circa 2017.

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