NFL on taunting: ‘Turn away,’ don’t risk penalty

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

The NFL sent a memo to clubs this week reaffirming its crackdown on taunting and insisting that it will continue until players change their behavior.

The impact of the NFL’s points of emphasis typically fade over the course of the season as players adjust and league officials grow satisfied with the results. But the trend has accelerated this season, with nearly half of the total penalties being called in the past three weeks. Overall, there have been 35 taunting flags this season, tied for the most through 10 weeks since at least 2000, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That includes 16 in Weeks 8-10.

“Appropriate celebration, enthusiasm and sharing great moments with our teammates and fans is encouraged,” NFL senior vice president of officiating training and development Walt Anderson said in an accompanying video. “The emphasis by the NFL to discourage acts of taunting or disrespect, when you direct actions toward an opponent or his bench, will continue. Officials are instructed to call fouls on actions that demonstrate that disrespect.”

The league implemented a point of emphasis on taunting this season at the behest of its coaches subcommittee, and many coaches have spoken in favor of it this season, including the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, the Indianapolis Colts’ Frank Reich and the Chicago Bears’ Matt Nagy. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, on the other hand, told “The Dan Patrick Show” on Thursday that he thought the foul was being “over-officiated.”

In the accompanying video, Anderson lauded two sack celebrations by Steelers pass-rusher T.J. Watt, who on each occasion ran in the opposite direction of his opponent before celebrating. The video also included multiple examples of what Anderson and senior vice president of officiating Perry Fewell said the league is attempting to root out. Among them was a clip of Bears defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. standing over and pointing a finger at Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Avoid any actions where you approach an opponent or his bench and gesture, posture or otherwise demonstrate any verbal or physical form of disrespect,” Anderson said in the video. “Turn away. Take the opportunity to celebrate with your teammates and don’t put officials in the position of having to make a judgment about whether or not your actions rise to the level of a foul. Remove all doubt and don’t put yourself or your team at risk of a penalty.”

The video did not include a controversial decision by referee Tony Corrente to penalize Bears pass-rusher Cassius Marsh for taunting after a key fourth-quarter sack in the Bears’ 29-27 loss to the Steelers in Week 9, but Fewell had previously announced his support for the decision. In the video, Anderson said the emphasis against taunting is in line with setting a better example for other levels of football.

“When our youth see us making a great play and then showing up an opponent,” he said, “that sends the message to them that such behavior is OK. But that is not the message that we want to promote for our great game.”

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