One of the big talking points following the Bears Monday night loss in Pittsburgh was a taunting penalty called on linebacker Cassius Marsh deep in the fourth quarter. Marsh, who just joined Chicago this week, was flagged after sacking Ben Roethlisberger and kicking the air in celebration. The 15 yard infraction gave the Steelers a key late first down and allowed them to kick a field goal that helped provide the winning margin in a 29-27 game.
The NFL defines taunting as: “Using baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams.” That is a ridiculously vague rule that is wide open to interpretation. Watching replays of the Marsh penalty, it is very hard to find evidence that he directed any of his celebration at a specific Steelers player.
Referee Tony Corrente said he made the call because Marsh directed this celebration towards the Steelers bench. Then it appeared the referee may have bumped into the Bears linebacker while he threw the flag. The whole thing was a complete and total farce and we could talk about the details of this specific episode for days, but my question is a bigger one. Why do we need taunting penalties?
Taunting penalties are not that old of a feature in the NFL. They were introduced in the 1990’s as demonstrative players like Deion Sanders reached prominence. As anyone who has watched a football game in the last 20 years knows well, players celebrate and trash talk after every single play. Taunting penalties seem to come out of nowhere, with no rhyme or reason why certain interactions are deemed illegal but a vast majority are ignored.
The NFL has displayed big time hypocrisy on the issue. They actively encourage celebrations and trash talking, having star players mic up during games and setting up cameras for entire defensive units to celebrate turnovers. The idea of preventing ill will between two teams that are trying to tackle each other at full speed is also ridiculous.
The unrestrained passion and joy that comes after huge plays is integral to the NFL’s current popularity. Trying to play the game the “so called” right way, to steal a phrase from baseball, seems like a foolhardy endeavor. Scrapping the taunting rule eliminates an arbitrary penalty that does nothing but cause controversy and make the NFL less fun for players and fans.
On a deeper level, it’s a bad look for 32 owners who are 97% White to try to limit harmless celebrations in a league where the players are 70% African-American. Penalties against offensive language and personal fouls already cover any egregious post play issues anyway.
No team should ever lose another game because of this stupid, unfair, and pointless rule. The sooner the NFL makes this change the better. Feel free to flag me on this one Tony Corrente.