CHICAGO — The NFL, or "No Fun League" as it's been nicknamed for years, took a step Tuesday to inject some harmless entertainment back into its game as owners were informed that players can again celebrate touchdowns without being subject to penalty.
"I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two months, I’d say, talking to players, to coaches, to officials, to fans, to try and understand what’s the right balance," commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday from the league's spring meeting. "It’s always been a balance of, and the players were particularly strong on this, they want to uphold the integrity of the game; we want to make sure what we do reflects well on ourselves, our families, the game."
Thus, the NFL is encouraging "spontaneous exuberance," as USA TODAY's Tom Peliserro reports, but it still won't permit extended celebrations, taunting and sexually suggestive dances (sorry, Antonio Brown).
The NFL will use a 40-second clock after the official signals touchdown and the players can celebrate — within reason — without fear of being penalized. It's worth noting excessive celebration flags were thrown only 33 times last season, but the idea is for fewer flags and more fun.
"I think the line is simple: sportsmanship matters, it’s important," said Falcons owner and competition committee chairman Rich McKay. "Taunting is not acceptable; pointing and putting something in somebody else’s face. I’m not sure that we didn’t take the choreographed celebration too far. I think it started to feel like a bit of a sportsmanship issue and it really isn’t."
Indeed, while taunting remains an automatic 15-yard penalty, language regarding choreographed celebrations has been deleted; this was one of the celebration aspects players deemed important in their meetings with Goodell, McKay and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent.
"Players really enjoyed having a voice to express their views what they think should be done," Goodell said. "They’ve expressed ownership. It’s on them also to make sure this is done the right way."
Added Vincent: "And one thing that was clear, it was a consensus, that they want ceratin things out of the game. Allow us to choreograph; can you reintroduce or consider reintroducing the ball as a prop. It was a phenomenal exercise. All stakeholders were involved — the fan, the player, the coach, the official —and we feel like we’re coming to a good place where we should be language-wise.
Yes, Steelers All-Pro WR Antonio Brown, who was fined multiple times totaling more than $34,000 last season for his twerking touchdown celebration, will continue to be fined and penalized if this persists. But other celebrations will be allowed, and, the league thinks, it should make the job of the officials easier.
"We heard from a lot of officials and they wanted to get out of [deciding which celebrations to penalize]," said Goodell. "Frankly, we want them focusing on the game and the rules so that was our feedback. We think there is less discretion; it’s beneficial to the officials."
So while Tuesday wasn't necessarily a win for Brown, it was a triumphant day for many players whose creativity will be sparked by the NFL's less rigid disciplinary tactics on touchdown celebrations. It was also undoubtedly a win for fans who thought the league was taking the fun out of its game.
"It was time to revisit it. The pendulum had swung a long ways," McKay said.