The subject of taunting is back on the menu. On Sunday it was Zay Flowers’ turn, when the Ravens receiver was critically flagged in the second half for taunting Chiefs’ DB L’Jarius Sneed.
And yes, to be 100 percent clear: This was absolutely taunting by the letter of the law.
The problem is that this law sucks. This rule is inherently flawed. It’s been problematic since its inception, and now just winds up being annoying. The exact definition of “taunting” according to the NFL rulebook is as follows:
“Using baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams.”
There is absolutely no doubt that pushing a player down who is trying to get up, while jawing at him is indeed taunting. However, the NFL rule is so loose that we could absolutely make the argument that Travis Kelce pointing downfield after every first down fit the definition of taunting as well.
Is Kelce baiting a reaction with this? Yes. Is he taunting his opposition for not stopping him? Absolutely. Should any of this be wrong? Hell no. Players in the league have absolutely no problem with taunting on both sides, because it’s in the DNA of football itself.
If you’re playing in the schoolyard, you taunt. If you’re tossing the ball around on the beach, you taunt. If you get a little carried away on Thanksgiving and stiff arm your uncle Clarence into oblivion, tearing his argyle sweater in the process — you taunt. Some of the greatest athletes of our time understood the psychological power of taunting. Larry Bird and Michael Jordan said things so viscous they’d make the average person cry. Deion Sanders pranced to the end zone like a gazelle, mocking his opponents along the way. Heck, even baseball allows for bat flips to be settled between the players as god intended — which is why we are firmly “Team Burrow” in the taunting discussion.
Let the guys taunt.
The argument against taunting seems rooted in selective pearl clutching. That children watching professional athletes mock each other will somehow have an irrevocable effect on their lives. Just pay no mind to the fact that a kid watching the NFL on Sunday is explicitly told through advertising that fast food is required to watch football, beer makes game day better, and gambling is a way to add excitement to sports.
It’s totally fine to tell kids that unhealthy food, alcohol and gambling are great for them — so long as they don’t see an athlete flex on someone after a big sack.
If anything, it’s my belief that we need to expose youth to the pros and cons of taunting. Heck, that’s what we got on Sunday. Flowers taunted Sneed, and later Sneed punched the ball out at the goal line, sealing the Ravens’ fate. It was the ultimate comeuppance, and one has to ponder if Sneed wouldn’t have gone so hard, made that specific play if he wasn’t flexed on a half hour earlier. It typifies actions having consequences, and a lesson we can actually share. Sure, go ahead and mock your opponent — but don’t cry when it goes bad for you later.
Instead the NFL continually feels the need to police this stuff. That the most violent sport on earth, with gladiators crashing into each other with the force of a car accident, isn’t enough to “engender ill will,” but pointing after a play? Buddy that’s where we’ve got the draw the line.
You don’t need to like taunting to accept that these kind of personal battles serve as subplots for a game, and that makes football better. It establishes personality in a league desirous of homogeny. It gives us more heroes, more villains, more investment. Get the refs out of the game and …
Let the guys taunt.