Players annoyed with NFL’s crackdown on celebrations

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates a touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates a touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

(AP) — Hey NFL players: If you want a safe way to celebrate touchdowns and big plays, just hug it out.

Don’t twerk. Don’t pretend to shoot a bow and arrow. Don’t even think about playing basketball with a football. And, never take your helmet off.

“Hugs are always legal,” Dean Blandino, the NFL’s senior vice president for officiating, said in an explanatory video earlier this month.

Not a hugger? No problem. You have options.

“This may seem crazy, but you can always just hand the ball to an official,” Blandino also said in the video sent to news media and teams.

The league’s crackdown on celebrations has resulted in more unsportsmanlike penalties. There have been 22 taunting penalties through Week 7, up from 13 at this point in 2015 and double the total after seven games in 2014.

“The rule hasn’t changed in terms of what is and what isn’t taunting,” Blandino said, adding referees were advised to make it a point-of-emphasis call. “Fouls go up initially, and then as the players start to regulate their behavior and they understand where the bar is, we start to see the foul numbers go down.”

But many players and fans don’t understand why the league cares so much about celebrations. They’re quick to call it the “No Fun League.”

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith criticized the league last week in a series of tweets after former Giants kicker Josh Brown was placed on Commissioner Roger Goodell’s “exempt” list because police documents revealed Brown admitted to repeatedly abusing his former wife while they were married.

“Celebrating a TD will get you fined but being an abuser can keep the checks coming in,” Smith wrote on Twitter. “Gotta start taking the things that are important serious….and be consistent with the investigation and punishment.”

In his video, Blandino said: “We’re not trying to legislate emotion out of the game. Sportsmanship and player safety are the two top priorities in the game today.”

No doubt, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson’s dancing, the Ickey Shuffle, the high-fiving Fun Bunch and Mark Gastineau’s sack dance wouldn’t be tolerated. Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson would’ve been ejected for their creative celebrations.

“We talk about, we want to grow the business of the NFL and revenues,” Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. “We see growth from 10 billion to 20 billion (dollars) by the end of 2022. We need more of that. We need guys to come out of the box. We need Antonio Brown twerking in the end zone. Kids shouldn’t be fined for that. Guys should go out there and wear colorful cleats. That’s our culture right now. This is this new era, this hip-hop and lifestyle era. We need to embrace that. You can’t just put guys in a box.”

Blandino explained that Brown was penalized for twerking because it was “sexually suggestive” and sends the wrong message to youngsters watching the sport.

“We don’t want that out on the youth football field,” Blandino said. “That’s not the image we want to portray.”

Dancing is fine — for the most part.

Victor Cruz is known for doing the salsa after he scores, but Odell Beckham Jr. drew a penalty for dropping to his knee and taking a pretend photo of his teammate.

“The salsa was fine but taking a Polaroid was choreographed,” Blandino said. “If we let this go, players will try to outdo each other and it will lead to other things like players stomping on logos and players hitting players who stomp on logos, so we have to continue to maintain the standard of sportsmanship and professionalism that the NFL stands for.”

Saints wideout Brandin Cooks tweaked his Bible-themed TD celebration after Redskins cornerback Josh Norman was fined for mimicking a bow-and-arrow shot following an interception.

Inspired by Psalm 144:6 — “Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy; shoot your arrows and rout them” — Cooks used to celebrate TDs in a similar way by shooting an imaginary bow and arrow. Now, he pretends to pull the arrow from his back but doesn’t follow through with the shooting motion, kneels down and raises both arms toward heaven .

“What it’s essentially for is God, thanking him and being able to glorify him in a different way than just crossing my chest,” Cooks said.

Cooks was never fined for his celebration, but stopped it after Norman’s fine because he didn’t want to risk a penalty. Smart move because Blandino said players will be penalized for “anything that mimics a violent act or weaponry whether it’s directed at an opponent or not.”

Norman was exasperated after teammate Vernon Davis drew a penalty for shooting a jumper with the football over a goal post following a TD. Using the ball “as a prop” is illegal. The 15-yard penalty assessed on the kickoff led to a shorter kick that was returned 86 yards for a score by Philadelphia’s Wendell Smallwood.

“When is enough, enough? Fans want to see excitement,” Norman said. “They work their tails off during the week. They go to work 9-5 and they get a day off on Sundays to come out here and watch their team put on a show. We are entertainers, whether you like it or not.

“We want to have fun with the game, but it’s like, ‘Come on, man!’ Who’s in the office calling these calls? Who is making this stuff? It’s ridiculous. If they want to say I’m outspoken about it, so be it, because this is what we do, man. Gladiators in the sport back in the day, they celebrated, they had their time, so why can’t we have ours? It’s just, I don’t understand it. I really don’t.”

Norman later suggested he would pretend to tap a beer keg as a future celebration to mock the league’s “hypocrisy” for their beer sponsorship.

“He has a point,” Cooks said.

Beckham is a frequent offender, though his marriage proposal to the kicking net on the sideline two weeks ago was within the rules. Beckham was flagged and later fined for taking off his helmet after exiting the end zone while celebrating his winning 66-yard touchdown before he approached the net.

“They fine me for smiling,” Beckham said.

Not quite, but almost.

___

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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