Taunting, gloating, bragging rights, whatever you want to call it, rubbing your success in the face of the opposition is human nature. Players love to do it, fans love to see it, and fans love to repeat it. Taunting adds a level of excitement that would otherwise be unattainable for fans. However, the days of taunting, a once intrinsic form of expression within the NFL, are numbered.
Taunting isn’t just talking shit. It’s more nuanced. It’s also body language, mean mugs, celebrations, and symbolic projections of aggression. The art of the taunt can be holistically simple and yet, simultaneously be composed of complex layers unique to a specific player, team, or entire organization. Take Tyreek Hill’s peace sign in a regular season game against Tampa Bay. A sort of staple for Hill, it didn’t carry any significance, other than it was a taunt. However, fast forward to Super Bowl LV, a rematch between Kansas City and Tampa Bay and Bucs Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. threw Hill’s peace sign right back at him as Tampa Bay won in dominant fashion. It’s part of the game.
Consider that all NFL players were just fans who have proven that they are way better at football than the rest of us. So much so, that they’re employed by the NFL and earn exorbitant amounts of money to play the sport we love. Why should fans-turned-employees of the game be excluded from taunting and celebrating like the rest of us? We as fans love that shit, and the players should be allowed to have some fun at work. It’s exciting, inspiring, relatable and sought after. There are videos of the best hits, catches and plays, etc. The same goes for the best taunts as well.
The decline all started with excessive celebration penalties in 1984. They were rarely enforced at that point, but in 2004 there was a serious crackdown. We can’t all be the blank slate that is Kawhi Leonard and it wouldn’t be fun if we were.
The NFL: Yeah, you scored a TD, but you looked happy about it. 15 yard penalty.
This is exaggerated by a couple of fans, known as Key and Peele, in their Excessive Celebration skit.
Simply put, the league is getting softer. Just ask Tom Brady, he said it himself in an interview with Jim Gray on the Let’s Go! podcast, “the game is a little softer than it used to be.” While he was referring to physicality, the mentality of the NFL has evolved similarly. Protecting players from CTE and other gruesome injuries is and should always be encouraged. However, the athletes in the NFL are adults. They can handle a little jawing. If they can’t, well, they probably can’t be trusted to do their job either, if it’s that easy to get in their head.
The NFL should pump the brakes on penalties for taunting and excessive celebrations. For the sake of the fans, and by extension, the sake of the NFL. After all, viewership makes the professional sports world go round.