League could ease up on celebration penalties
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared in a Super Bowl week skit with comedian Keegan-Michael Key about excessive celebration, it might have been a sign the league is open to doing more than getting in on the joke.
The NFL’s competition committee has discussed the league’s celebration rules during its annual meetings at the scouting combine — a conversation that’s slated to continue Wednesday during a joint session that includes current and former players as well as representatives from the NFL Players Association, people with knowledge of the meetings told USA TODAY Sports.
And there is a strong sense that changes are coming to clarify the rules, focusing in part on the duration of some acts, which could ease pressure on officials and reverse the surge in celebration fouls that brought a fresh round of complaints last season about the “No Fun League.”
There were 30 so-called demonstration penalties in 2016 — up from 29 over the previous two seasons combined and just five in 2013, according to data compiled by the NFL and obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
In a meeting Monday, the competition committee watched video of roughly 40 celebrations that drew fines last season, said one of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the issue remains under discussion. Though there was not consensus on all the celebrations, those that were prolonged remain a problem for the committee, in addition to the obvious no-nos of mimicking weapons or sex acts, according to multiple people in the meeting.
Goodell made it clear unsportsmanlike conduct was an area of emphasis last season, pushing for a rule (approved as a one-year experiment) that automatically ejected a player for two such violations. As one of the people explained, the intention wasn’t to ramp up flags for celebrations, but officials erred on the conservative side. That pattern, combined with players continuing to push the limits, contributed to the escalation in celebration infractions.
Scott Green, a former NFL referee who is the executive director of the NFL Referees Association, acknowledged during Super Bowl week that it was “getting kind of hard sometimes to determine” what exactly the league wanted called. Officials want the rules to be clearly defined but would really prefer the NFL enforce the rules through fines rather than flags.
“Got to give guys credit — they’re pretty creative,” Green told USA TODAY Sports. “They take it right to the line, and then maybe they go over or they don’t. We would love as a group not to be dealing with celebration issues. But that’s part of our jurisdiction, and unfortunately we look like the bad guys when we throw the foul after a guy goes 90 yards for the touchdown.”
Clarifications to the existing rules — which outlaw a list that includes, but is not limited to, throat slash, machine-gun salute, sexually suggestive gestures, prolonged gyrations and stomping on a team logo — would not necessarily require a vote by the membership.
Goodell and other league officials have long cited the need to keep tensions from escalating as reason for tightening celebration rules. But last season there were flags for, among other things, doing snow angels, hugging an official, shooting the ball like a basketball, jumping into an oversized Salvation Army kettle and a variety of quasi-choreographed dances.
In the social media age, originality quite literally pays. Viral video clips can mean endorsement dollars. So while certain types of celebrations won’t ever gain approval, escalating the war on fun makes little sense, especially as the NFL ponders its early-season ratings dip and tries to find ways to keep reaching a younger generation.
The Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. is known for his celebrations.