The National Football League has seldom been a standard-bearer for good behavior. Domestic violence and other off-the-field illegal or immoral activity are often ignored or inconsistently addressed. But as the pro football season begins Thursday, there’s a noteworthy attempt to raise the bar on good sportsmanship.
NFL referees have been instructed to strictly enforce the no-taunting rule. Two taunting violations during a game will result in a player’s ejection, and a possible fine or suspension.
What does taunting look like? Typically, it’s when a player stands over an opponent and mocks, baits, denigrates, or tries to embarrass them. On a school playground, it would be called bullying.
Some players and fans have responded with grumbling, reviving the criticism that NFL stands for “No Fun League.” But the NFL has seen recent cases of taunting escalate into brawls between players.
And coaches seem to recognize that this is about more than the NFL. “Hey, guys, you can celebrate. You can have a good time,” said Ron Rivera, coach of the Washington Football Team, last month. “But let’s don’t taunt your opponent, because ... it is not a good look. Quite honestly, we don’t need the young people to see that. We don’t need the Pop Warner, peewee football kids seeing us act like that.”
No, we don’t.
In a nation beset by store clerks assaulted for enforcing mask rules, angry diners, and families riven by political differences, perhaps we need more flag-throwing referees. At least the most popular sport in America is taking a modest stand for respect.