D.J. Reed had just made a crucial stop. With eight minutes left in Sunday’s game, and with the Tennessee Titans driving down the field, the Seahawks cornerback broke up a pass intended for wide receiver A.J. Brown on a deep shot.
So, Reed celebrated — getting up off the ground and nodding his head at Brown.
Then, the flag was thrown. And people, not just Reed, got mad. The referee did not issue a pass interference penalty, but rather, Reed was punished for taunting — a 15-yard infraction, giving the Titans a first down.
“A TAUNTING CALL IN A HIGH LEVERAGE SITUATION,” ESPN’s Mina Kimes tweeted in all caps. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME”
Reed’s penalty was part of the NFL’s crackdown on taunting calls this year — a controversial change in which league officials were told to strictly enforce rules on the books aimed at eliminating “abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures” toward players. And through two weeks of games, that emphasis has led to an uptick in penalties that have generally been very unpopular among fans, media members and players.
According to NFLPenalties.com, there were eight taunting penalties called Sunday — the most since the website started tracking penalties in 2009. Entering Monday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, there have been a total of 10 taunting calls through 31 games in 2021.
For context, there were just 10 taunting penalties called all last season.
“The majority of fans feels that this is a bad idea — and so do the majority of players,” Browns center J.C. Tretter, president of the NFL Players Association, wrote earlier this month on the union website. “We would support the removal of this point of emphasis immediately.”
In the offseason, the NFL’s competition committee, a nine-member panel that includes owners, executives, coaches and a player, decided that taunting had gotten out of hand in recent seasons. The committee was reportedly influenced by a play in the Super Bowl in which Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfeld Jr. threw up a peace sign toward Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill to mock his signature celebration in the final moments of the Buccaneers’ victory.
New York Giants owner John Mara said that the league got “sick and tired of the taunting,” adding that “no one wants to see a player taunting another player.” Washington coach Ron Rivera told reporters the emphasis was put in place to prevent “escalation” of prior plays. Both men serve on the committee.
But those explanations do little to satisfy those unhappy with the change. On Sunday, fans on social media broke out the commonly used expression that the NFL stands for the “No Fun League.”
Ari Meirov of MySportsUpdate compiled a video that included some of the taunting calls from Sunday’s action — drawing more than a million views in five hours on Twitter. There were also more than 1,000 replies to the post and over 4,000 quote tweets.
The calls generated a wide array of backlash.
“There’s virtually nothing we can agree on on this app except that the NFL’s new taunting rule STINKS,” ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted.
“PLEASE NFL. THESE TAUNTING PENALTIES ARE RUINING THE GAME,” former lineman Geoff Schwartz wrote. “NOT A SINGLE FAN OR PLAYER WANTED THIS CHANGE. IT HAS TO STOP. PLEASE.”
Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said he hardly received an explanation when he was called for taunting in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Officials threw the flag after Gipson clapped in Cincinnati wideout Ja’Marr Chase’s face following a pass-breakup made on the Bengals’ first drive of the game.
Gipson said he only did so because he was excited about making a stop on third down. He added he was “pumping up my guys” with the celebration.
“I don’t want to be out there if I can’t be happy for my guys when they are making big plays,” Gipson told reporters. “That’s what this game is about man. It’s just adrenaline.“
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