NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is the subject of angst from NFL fans yet again. On the heels of a largely successful pandemic-riddled 2021 season, the league’s top man is back in a more comfortable position.
This time, the annoyance comes from fans, players, and coaches all at once. The current taunting crackdown and the associated rule has the potential to change the outcomes of games. Are the NFL and Goodell wrong to focus so much on the on-field conduct of players?
How the NFL’s taunting crackdown came to be
The NFL Competition Committee, a group chosen by Goodell from the ranks of owners, general managers, and head coaches, has long discussed cracking down on taunting. According to Sports Illustrated, owners pressured the NFL to deal with bad behavior on the field.
“We get kind of sick and tired of the taunting that does go on from time to time on the field,” New York Giants owner and Competition Committee member John Mara said. “We tried to balance the sportsmanship with allowing the players to have fun and there’s always a fine line there, but none of us like to see that.”
The rule is up to the discretion of referees to decide when a player’s taunting is “excessive.” It comes with a heavy 15-yard penalty attached — enough to swing the outcome of a close game. The Committee’s main goal was to instruct referees to enforce the rule more frequently, as a way of reducing tension between plays, before problems start.
NFL fans, players, and coaches are not happy with the new taunting rule
Fans instantly dislike the increased enforcement of the rule. On Reddit, fans across the league seemed almost universally against the change. “It’s things like this that make me feel like I’ve got an expiration date as a fan,” one Redditor wrote. “Penalties this ridiculous take me right out of it and make me question why the hell I even bother watching.”
Seattle Times reporter Bob Condotta reported that coaches are also annoyed. Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, actually agreed with a taunting call that went against his team. But only in the sense that it was to the letter of the rule, the enforcement of which “opened up a can of worms that we don’t like.”
The player in question, D.J. Reed, earned the 15-yard loss after celebrating a pass breakup. It was hardly taunting, and no different from a reaction you’d see in any pro sport after a big moment. That includes the currently permissible touchdown celebrations although the league continues to adjust those rules, too, Complex reports.
Should the NFL keep the anti-taunting rule?
The New York Times reports that players and coaches had plenty of warning before the season started that taunting calls would come fast and frequent in 2021. It’s also going to be difficult to reverse by even large-scale complaining. After all, Goodell considers fan badmouthing to be part of the job. He embraces it, even.
But some level of trash talking is simply a part of sports. Likely more so for one so notably difficult, brutal, and frustrating as NFL’s brand of football. This is an environment where head coach Mike Tomlin trash-talked his own kicker to help him gain back his confidence — and it worked. Should a taunting rule be enforced in a context where it can lead to constructive outcomes?
But the most important aspect of the rule that Goodell must consider is the effect it has on games. Fans prefer fair outcomes. In terms of the Seahawks incident involving Reed, the ruling led to an uncomfortable moment.
The Seahawks lost that game 33-30 in overtime, with the 15-yard penalty as the main cause. If it makes the games less fun and engaging to watch, is it really worth it? We’ll find out next season when all the data — and complaints — are processed by the Competition Committee.