Touchdown celebrations are a staple of the NFL, one of the few times in a game when players can show their personality. Celebrations become iconic moments. Some even become tradition. This season, the NFL has been clamping down more than ever on players’ touchdown celebrations.
Flags have been flying all over the place, taunting penalties are up 220 percent and unsportsmanlike penalties are up 56 percent over last season. Every week, there’s a story about a star player getting penalised or fined for their celebration.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown has already been fined twice this season, in Week 1 for twerking and in Week 4 for a couple of pelvic thrusts, though, to his credit, he did keep it under three pumps. Brown is familiar with a fine or two, famously being fined for leaping into the goal post after a 70-yard punt return touchdown last season.
Brown isn’t the only one drawing the ire of referees following touchdowns. New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr has seemingly developed a relationship with the team’s kicking net after striking it in frustration. Last week, Beckham was penalised and fined after his game-winning touchdown for removing his helmet on the field before he ran down the sideline a proposed to the kicking net.
This crackdown has been an intentional move from the NFL to force players to calm down their celebrations. None of the rules have been changed for this season, but officials have been instructed to enforce the rules a lot more stringently than in previous seasons. Under the NFL’s rules, any gesture an official considers to be violent, such Josh Norman’s bow and arrow, or sexually suggestive, like Brown’s thrust, is an automatic flag.
The sometimes arbitrary ruling of celebration penalties has also caused frustration with players. Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate got away with a Terrell Owens inspired celebration on a technicality last week after he danced with the Lions’ cheerleaders, pom poms and all, but escaped without a penalty because he was on the sideline and not in the end zone.
The size of the fines have almost been as impressive as the celebrations themselves. Brown’s Week 1 twerking cost him just $9,000 of his $12 million salary, but his next fine skyrocketed to $24,000 for his Week 4 antics. Beckham has copped his fair share of fines this season as well. Combined, taunting and celebration fines have totalled just shy of $250,000 for the season, more than any other category, according to Spotrac.com.
The NFL is treating celebrations so harshly that Brown’s second fine cost him as much as other players’ fines for helmet-to-helmet contact or hits to an unprotected player, something that the NFL has taken extremely seriously in recent years.
It seems somewhat excessive to treat a celebration in the same vain as one of the most dangerous acts in the game. A helmet-to-helmet hit warrants a fine of that size, it’s an act that needs to be eradicated from the game, but if a player’s a little excited after scoring a touchdown, should he be penalised to the same extent?
Where the NFL goes from here is anyone’s guess. Players don’t seem to be too bothered by taking flags after touchdowns, so is the next step even harsher rules or will the backlash force the NFL to relent and relax their rules to let the players show some emotion after a touchdown?