In a video sent to teams this week, NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said the uptick in taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties this season was meant to strengthen the example the league sets for lower levels of football.
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“The bottom line is that there’s many, many kids out there that are NFL fans that are playing football,” Blandino said in the video, “and they see our athletes and they mimic what they do. We wouldn’t want some of these things out on the youth football field. We have a high standard in the NFL and we’re going to maintain that standard.”
Through the first four weeks of the season, taunting penalties increased by 220 percent compared to the same period in 2015. All unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are up 55.6 percent, according to ESPN Stats Information research. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week that he hoped to gain clarity from the league so that star receiver Antonio Brown could avoid penalties after being flagged (and fined) twice this season for sexually-suggestive touchdown celebrations.
The video was part of a weekly tape the league produces for teams. The taunting/unsportsmanlike conduct content was identical to the video the league distributes to the public on Friday afternoons, a league spokesman confirmed.
Blandino, who says in the video that “sportsmanship and player safety are really the two top priorities in the game today,” ran through a series of examples to explain what will and will not be penalized. He says the league is “not trying to legislate emotion out of the game” but wants to eliminate:
“Anything directed at an opponent
“Anything that mimics a violent act … or weaponry”
Celebrations that are “sexually suggestive”
Choreographed celebrations that include more than one teammate, use the ball as a prop or include the player going to the ground.
“If we let this go,” Blandino says in the video, “it will continue to build and certain players will continue to try to outdo each other. Then it leads to other things. Then it leads to confrontations. It leads to stomping on logos, it leads to players stomping on logos. So we’ve just got to continue to maintain the standard of sportsmanship and the professionalism that the NFL stands for.”
Legal celebrations, Blandino says, include:
Spiking (as long as it is not directed at an opponent)
Bowing to the crowd
Saluting to the ground
Finally, Blandino says: “This may seem crazy, but you can just hand the ball to the official. That’s fine, too.”