Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Sports

Yes, it really is a No Fun League

Twerking? Don't do it, Antonio Brown.

Shooting a fake bow and arrow? No way, Josh Norman and Brandin Cooks.

Taking off your helmet? Nope, Odell Beckham Jr.

Shooting a jump shot over the crossbar? Forget about it, Vernon Davis.

NFL officials are throwing penalty flags for illegal celebrations and taunting with increasing regularity this season as part of the league's push for improved sportsmanship among players. Some players, fans and other observers wonder if the kind of crackdown that earned the sport the nickname of the "No Fun League" over the years has gone too far this time.

"I didn't know it was a penalty . . . I was doing that when I was in San Francisco and now all of a sudden it's a penalty," said Davis, the veteran tight end for the Washington Redskins. "(It was) like: 'Hey, where'd that come from, guys?' "

Davis' transgression was illegally using the football as a prop by flipping it, basketball jump shot-style, over the crossbar following a touchdown catch last Sunday against the Eagles.

"You're just shooting the ball over the goal post," Davis said after the game. "You're not taunting. I don't think that's taunting. You're just celebrating, right? But, like I said, it's out of my control. All I can do is correct it next time and not shoot it."

That's what the NFL wants to hear.

"It comes down to balancing a lot of issues, the professional standards that we want to uphold," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday following the owners' meeting in Houston. "We do believe that our players are role models and others look at that at the youth level. So that's important for us to hold that standard up. And it's part of being a professional."

Goodell spoke of sportsmanship when he directed the competition committee this past offseason to propose a rule requiring an automatic ejection of any player penalized twice for unsportsmanlike-conduct personal fouls in the same game.

The automatic ejection rule has had little impact on this season thus far. But the sportsmanship push has been seen more prevalently in other areas. There have been 16 penalties through Week 6 for excessive celebrations and illegal demonstrations, compared with 10 at this point last season. There have been 21 taunting penalties, up from 11 last season.

"Taunting fouls are up this year," Goodell said. "It's probably a combination of making that a point of emphasis. But we look at that as sportsmanship."

Some have criticized the league for attempting to legislate the joy out of the game or acting overly paternalistic toward players. Players have said they mean no harm.

Cooks, who has avoided being penalized for his bow-and-arrow routine while Norman was penalized and fined for his, says his gesture is inspired by Bible passages.

"I've been doing it for three years now, and there was never a complaint about it," Cooks told the New Orleans Advocate. "Now, all of a sudden, there is. It just reminds me that, it's almost as if they try to take so much away from us, but for something like this, that means so much to someone that has nothing to do with violence, it's frustrating."

Some of the penalties have resulted in significant on-field consequences. The Eagles returned the kickoff for a touchdown after the Redskins were pushed 15 yards back by Davis's penalty.

Davis was asked whether he thought what he did should constitute a penalty.

"I don't think so," he said. "But like I said, it's out of my control."

And was it even a good shot?

"It was a great shot!"

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