When Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers jumped a Jameis Winston pass and saw an open field in front of him, he was not going to be stopped. With a burst of acceleration, Norman exploded for a 46-yard pick six and furthered the Panther lead to 10, but the fun didn’t stop there. As Norman stopped in the end zone he rode the football like a horse and drew a penalty from the officials.
The NFL plans to crack down on taunting, but not every jab is caught. Stedman Bailey of the St. Louis Rams’ use of the football as a pillow to celebrate a touchdown in a recent game should have been called a penalty, but wasn’t.
These are grown men being paid obscene amounts of money to play a game and provide entertainment; they should be allowed to have some fun within the game.
Whenever superstar defenseman J.J. Watt embarrasses some poor offensive tackle or guard and feasts on a vulnerable quarterback, he celebrates by saluting.
“I do my salute as a sign of respect and appreciation to the military,” Watt said.
Why did Watt have to clarify what his salute was directed towards? Since the late ‘90s, the NFL has had a staunch no-taunting policy that players are not to celebrate directly at another player.
These are professional athletes doing this for a living, not Pop Warner or high school football players. They are playing a sport that alters the way the brain functions after years of playing this game. If they want to get in each other’s faces and jaw off, they should be encouraged in order to make the game theatrical.
Deion Sanders, arguably the best defensive back in the history of football, made his play on the football field must watch television bringing primetime to Sunday afternoons. If Deion high-stepped into the endzone, holding the ball out and teasing a defender as he scores in today’s NFL, he’d be ostracized and most likely penalized for taunting.
When I talk with my friends about the NFL we watched while growing up, we all cite moments that stand out in our memories: Terrell Owens pulling a sharpie out of his sock, signing a football and handing it to a fan in the front row; Joe Horn pulling a cell phone out of his sock; Randy Moss mooning the crowd at Lambeau Field.
These great competitors blurred the lines between athlete and entertainer and presented themselves as larger-than-life figures who were just flat out fun to watch because of their flair and dominance on the field.
In today’s NFL, a player will be penalized for: dunking the football over the goalpost, using the ball as a prop, gesturing a throat slash, or any celebration geared in the direction of other players.
Even the harmless dunk over the goalpost has been cast away because of an overbearing league office that can seemingly do only wrong. The league continues to get things wrong and this is one of them. Let the players gray that line between athlete and entertainer. The NFL is already the most popular sports league in this country, with some of the most recognizable faces in the world. Allow the special guys to stand out in their own unique way.