The NFL’s new taunting rules have been a controversial topic since the 2021 preseason. Through the first two weeks of the regular season, referees have enforced several penalties. The questionable nature of the rule itself had led to dismay from many around the league. Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh favors the new rules and believes it’s good for the sport.
8 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties issued in Week 2
The NFL’s competition committee agreed to put more of an emphasis on sportsmanship ahead of the 2021 season. Taunting penalties have long been around, but officiating crews are getting more comfortable throwing their yellow flags under the league’s new rules.
The league issued a statement regarding the sudden change. “We saw an increase in actions that clearly are not within the spirit and intent of this rule and not representative of the respect to opponents and others on the field,” the statement read.
Officials appear to be watching players’ actions much closer than they have in the past. Eight unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were enforced in Week 2, which tied for the most in a given week since 2000. There have been 11 taunting flags through the first two weeks of the regular season.
John Harbaugh supports the NFL’s taunting rules
The Baltimore Ravens are known to be one of the NFL’s most fiery and competitive teams. Reporters asked head coach John Harbaugh about his thoughts on the taunting penalties in a recent press conference.
Harbaugh had some interesting things to say. “I agree with the idea,” he said. “Sportsmanship is very important. The way we treat one another is very important.”
In 14 seasons as the Ravens head coach, Harbaugh has seen his fair share of unsportsmanlike penalties called against his players. Still, he commended the NFL for its stance on changing how players conduct themselves on the football field.
“I think the NFL is out in front in so many ways,” said Harbaugh. “We’re high-profile, and kids watch us all the time.”
He also mentioned that he hadn’t seen any of the controversial penalties handed down in Week 2. It’s unclear if he would have a different outlook. However, Harbaugh does appear to be clear about his stance on sportsmanship.
“It’s about respect, respecting one another out there.”
Is the NFL really the No Fun League?
John Harbaugh and the NFL do make valid points. Kids worldwide view professional athletes as role models, whether the players like it or not.
While the penalty was a bit excessive, players should be allowed to have fun and express themselves within reason. Trash talk is a part of sports, and that’s never going to change. Players’ competitive nature comes out, but the NFL doesn’t want them to have too much freedom.
Some of the penalties called in Week 2 were ridiculous. There has to be a fine line between celebrating and taunting. If someone makes a game-changing play, they should be able to celebrate.
NFL players are human beings. They are not robots to have their every move controlled. Officiating crews should obviously issue penalties for excessive behavior but while using discretion.
Right now, it appears as though referees are trying to meet some sort of quota. Unsportsmanlike conduct flags carry a 15-yard penalty, which could potentially impact the outcome of a game. That seems to be excessive given some of the minor infractions.
The NFL may have the right idea, but the execution is poor.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference