- - Monday, October 10, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Just when you think the NFL has hit rock bottom and found the absolute floor of sheer hypocrisy, the league goes deeper to demonstrate you haven’t seen anything yet.

The latest guffaw-inducing measure involves this season’s sharp spike in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for celebrations/taunting. According to ESPN Stats and Information, taunting penalties are up by more than 200 percent over the first four weeks from the same amount of games last season, while unsportsmanlike flags have increased by 56 percent.

Of particular note is Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown. He was hit with a penalty and $12,154 fine for twerking after scoring a touchdown against Washington in Week 1. He changed his celebratory move to pelvic pumps after scoring against Kansas City in Week 4, but the refs flagged him for that, too. The league levied a $24,309 fine, upping the amount because it was his second offense.

“I don’t think excessive celebrating should cost more than hitting guys in the helmet,” Brown told reporters last week. “Twenty-four thousand dollars for a guy scoring touchdowns and having fun is more than a guy getting hit in the head, targeting with the helmet.”

Actually, $24,309 is the exact same amount players are fined for impermissible use of the helmet or hitting defenseless player. But Brown’s point is no less valid.

Concerns about players’ head trauma and debilitating injuries are rampant. The on-field product is uneven and frequently uninspiring, with too many quarterbacks who are nothing special. TV ratings are sagging and national-anthem protests are a national phenomenon, raising questions of oversaturation and alienation.

So, naturally, cracking down on players shaking their booty in the end zone is a priority for the league.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wanted to know what’s allowed and what’s forbidden when it comes to gyrations. The NFL complied by sending him and every other team a video to help explain what’s allowed and what isn’t.

Among the permissible actions: (1) dancing that is not sexually suggestive; (2) celebrations with teammates that are not choreographed; (3) spiking the ball, as long as it’s not directed at an opponent; (4) spinning the ball, as long as it’s not directed to an opponent; (5) bowing to the crowd; (6) saluting; (7) going to the ground in prayer; (8) the “Lambeau Leap;” and (9) handing the ball to the official.

No-no’s: (1) anything that mimics a violent act, including slashing the throat, shooting guns, and shooting arrows, whether directed at an opponent or not; (2) sexually suggestive dancing; (2) choreographed celebrations; (3) excessive celebrations; (4) prolonged celebrations; (5) spiking or spinning the ball at an opponent; (6) going to the ground; (7) using the ball as a prop; and (8) using any other props.

Good luck reaching consensus on the definition of “choreographed,” “excessive” and “prolonged” celebrations. And while Brown’s dance fits the description of sexually suggestive, not every case is as clear. Talk about 50 shades of gray.

“If it looks like it, it probably is, and we’re trying to give our officials some consistent guidelines,” NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in the video, according to ESPN. Brown earlier told reporters that he minimized his Week 4 dance by keeping it at two pumps. But Blandino’s interpretation makes it sound like even a half-pump can draw flags. Key & Peele’s Hingle McCringleberry would have to retire immediately.

Look, I don’t care for Brown — or any man — twerking or thrusting like an NFL cheerleader. If it was up to me, he’d be flagged for that offense on general principle alone. But I don’t mind the salsa routine by Giants wideout Victor Cruz or last season’s dabbing by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton (although the MVP once dragged it out longer than a commercial break).

“This may seem crazy,” Blandino said, “but you can just hand the ball to the official. That’s fine, too.”

More than fine, that’s exactly what the league wants. No creativity. No personality. No fun. What’s the harm in letting players express themselves a little bit?

“The bottom line is that there’s many, many kids out there that are NFL fans that are playing football,” Blandino said. “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.”

I’m pretty sure youth football coaches can keep celebrations under control. Youngsters aren’t allowed to behave like pro athletes until they’re actually collecting paychecks. Little Johnny should be taught the difference between recreation — what he engages in — and entertainment — what we watch on Sundays.

Anyway, the number of penalties is likely to decline as players adjust to the point of emphasis. That should make the NFL happy.

Players might face brain damage, paralysis and even death. But at least they won’t be dancing.


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