By: D.J. Podgorny, @DJPodgorny
NFL football in 2016 was filled with headlines ranging from declining ratings to global expansion to player safety and longevity. Despite the re-emergence of top franchises, such as the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, and the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL faced a great deal of negative press this season.
Perhaps one of the most interesting storylines in the 2016 campaign was the peak of the “No Fun League” movement. Players, upset about the all-time high level of sensitivity towards on-field celebrations, began speaking and acting out against commissioner Goodell's regime.
Cleveland’s Andrew Hawkins made a bold statement in the first half of the season, celebrating his touchdown with a robotic celebration, a sarcastically pointed gesture to the greater league. Giants star Odell Beckham Jr., on the other hand, has been outspoken on numerous occasions about the NFL’s bias for fines and penalties.
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The players are certainly in their right to protest against the decreased tolerance for showmanship on Sundays. The amount of fines for excessive celebrations tripled year over year, while the amount of fines for unsportsmanlike conduct nearly doubled. The numbers become even more staggering when compared with the data from the last five seasons holistically:
Not only were celebrations and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties at an all-time high in terms of growth rate, they were also among the top of all fines, league-wide. Unsportsmanlike conduct came in as the most fined offense (48) in 2016, while excessive celebrations were the third most fined infraction (22). Only roughing the passer (35) had more violations.
To add to the large volume of penalties and fines assessed this season, officials have been wildly inconsistent in their punishments. Players such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown have received multiple fines for unsportsmanlike conduct and excessive celebration while other players haven’t been reprimanded for similar offenses.
For instance, after a rush for a touchdown in week 15, the Cowboy’s Ezekiel Elliott jumped into a salvation army kettle. According to the NFL rulebook (Section 3.1.f), the use of this foreign object should have been considered taunting and warranted an unsportsmanlike conduct fine. Elliott, however, was not fined for his behavior, causing a rise out the NFL’s most fined stars.
The intense level of discretion and erratic behavior has garnered the attention of league officials. Pro Football Talk confirmed that celebrations will be analyzed and discussed by the NFL’s Competition Committee during offseason meetings. As PFT’s Mike Florio explained:
“There’s a chance that the current rules could end up getting a bit of an overhaul, with players given greater freedom to express themselves after achieving a positive outcome on the football field.”
This level of action suggests that the voices of players have been heard loud and clear. In the interim, however, fans can expect less twerking and professions of love to inanimate objects and more robotics and Gronk-spikes. As a concerned fan, I truly hope 2017 is the end of the “No Fun League”.