Going into this season, we knew the NFL's new point of emphasis on calling taunting penalties would be controversial.
We knew the league was in danger of regaining the "No Fun League" mantle it had made some progress in moving away from in recent years. We just didn't think it would be this bad.
After an ominous preaseason and questionable start in Week 1, the NFL saw a string of taunting penalties in Week 2 that left fans angry and wondering who on earth asked for players to be severely punished for even mild celebrations when directed at their opponent (the answer is NFL owners mad about Tyreek Hill).
On Sunday, we watched a player penalized for spinning a football. And flashing the incomplete sign. And clapping. Los Angeles Chargers tight end Jared Cook got called for one over a run-of-the-mill touchdown celebration, but had that called back due to an illegal shift penalty.
The worst moment, though, came during the game between the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks. With the Titans down 30-23 and driving to tie the game, Ryan Tannehill went for a deep pass to A.J. Brown that landed incomplete. Seahawks cornerback D.J. Reed, who was covering Brown, got up, flexed while looking at Brown and walked away (video above). Then he received a 15-yard penalty for taunting, moving the Titans into Seahawks territory.
Fortunately for Reed and the Seahawks, they still held the Titans scoreless on that drive, but not the next one. The Titans would eventually win a wild game 33-30 in overtime. The episode was more a warning, that in a major game, at a major moment, a player will be penalized for a celebration that wouldn't have batted an eye last season.
The reception for the crackdown on taunting has been almost universally negative in the diverse world of NFL Twitter. Current NFL players hate it. Former NFL players hate it. Current NBA players hate it. Reporters hate it. TV personalities hate it. Anonymous accounts hate it.
It's not often you see all of them this lined up on an issue:
There's virtually nothing we can all agree on on this app except that the NFL's new taunting rule STINKS.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 19, 2021
NFL gotta do something about these taunting calls 👎🏼
— Alex Caruso (@ACFresh21) September 19, 2021
Refs getting outrageous with these taunting penalties. I guess we just need to play the game like robots 🤖
— Nicholas Williams (@NickWilliams_98) September 19, 2021
This taunting rule is outrageous. Not allowing players to react when they make big plays does absolutely nothing. Nobody cares. That personality is FUN.
— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) September 19, 2021
PLEASE NFL. THESE TAUNTING PENALTIES ARE RUINING THE GAME. NOT A SINGLE FAN OR PLAYER WANTED THIS CHANGE. IT HAS TO STOP. PLEASE.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) September 19, 2021
Bro the taunting penalties have to go . This is insane
— Tony Jefferson II (@_tonyjefferson) September 19, 2021
These taunting penalties might be the actual stupidest thing I have ever seen in sports
— Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat) September 19, 2021
taunting penalties are hysterically stupid
— Jessica Smetana (@jessica_smetana) September 19, 2021
the NFL took a big step forward when they let players start doing end zone dances, saw all the positive coverage and goodwill it generated, and decided to take 1,000 steps backwards by calling taunting penalties whenever any player gets excited about anything
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) September 19, 2021
The NFL has established a new level of arrogance today with its application of this taunting infraction. It’s both obsessive and stupid…
— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) September 19, 2021
A few years ago, the NFL had a whole media blitz about allowing team celebrations, used it to hype up the season.
Now we’ve reached this point with taunting. The entire sport is based on physicality and hitting, but you can’t be mean and hurt someone’s feelings.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) September 19, 2021
Tired: Targeting ejections are ruining the game
Wired: Taunting ejections are ruining the game
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 19, 2021
Refs are going buck wild with the taunting penalties today… something precisely zero NFL fans were clamoring for but will undoubtedly swing a playoff game this year!
— nick wright (@getnickwright) September 19, 2021
Way better to let ‘em talk junk than jack it up with all these ridiculous taunting penalties
— Jim Rome (@jimrome) September 19, 2021
zero nfl fans want these taunting rules
— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) September 19, 2021
take pro taunting and college targeting & throw them in the trash together
well… at least throw them in a blender & don’t stop hitting pulse until they’re both chopped up into something much more palatable
— Jacob Tamme (@JacobTamme) September 19, 2021
Another taunting flag!!!!!!!
The NFL has to stop this.
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) September 19, 2021
A TAUNTING CALL IN A HIGH LEVERAGE SITUATION ARE YOU KIDDING ME
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) September 19, 2021
I can confirm, the new taunting rule is the abomination we all worried it might be.
— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) September 19, 2021
The NFL has shifted from promoting celebrations one year to penalizing players for competitive enthusiasm the next year (taunting). I understand eliminating the silly stuff but it appears the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Common sense should apply. #NFL
— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) September 19, 2021
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Taunting is part of the sport
You stuck-up prudes
— RJ Young (@RJ_Young) September 19, 2021
Will the NFL make a change over what is quickly becoming one of the least popular rules in sports? Probably not this season, so get ready for an interesting playoffs.