Commentary

No-spin criticism misses mark

Mailbag: Celebration limits make sense when properly understood

Originally Published: August 11, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Recent criticism of the NFL's new emphasis to limit celebration got a little out of hand last week.

The NFL may be tagged the No Fun League for its stance on player celebrations, but the mission is to prevent altercations in the end zone. Football is an emotional game. Successful players want to celebrate good plays. Those celebrations spark negative reactions from the victimized team.

Before the start of the preseason games, though, officials defined the league's stance on how it wants celebrations penalized. The big adjustment this season is any act directed at an opponent that is considered taunting will be penalized.

That's logical.

Throwing the ball at an opponent, spinning the ball at an opponent, pointing to an opponent and other such acts could provoke a fight, and the NFL will not tolerate that. The misconception last week was that the NFL was eliminating all ball spins, military salutes or spikes.

That isn't the case. The league is trying to make it clear to the players involved what will be penalized and what will be accepted. The league says it is making it a point to indicate that "sportsmanship is always a point of emphasis."

[+] EnlargeBen Tate
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackBen Tate can continue celebrating by spinning the ball as long as it's not directed toward the opposition.

Players, coaches and fans usually are against change, even minor changes. At the owners meetings, offensive linemen were concerned about the rule change involving peel-back blocks. The fear was that the NFL was going to prohibit all low blocks, particularly the backside low blocks on running plays involving zone blocks.

As it turned out, the change only involved a blocker who goes back into the tackle box and delivers a low, blindside block to a defender who wouldn't be able to see it coming. Such a play ended the season last year for Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who was the victim. Once it was explained, blockers were OK with the rule change.

Running backs might be fuming about the 15-yard penalty that could be called against them if they deliver a blow to a defender with the crown of the helmet. This is a big deal for backs, but it doesn't involve running plays inside the tackle box. To get the penalty, the back has to be out of the tackle box, running downfield and "lining up" a helmet angle at a defender.

If the back isn't lining up a blow, there is no penalty.

Selfishly, I like the free rein for players to celebrate. I loved the antics of the "Fun Bunch" of the Washington Redskins and the "rolling the dice" celebration of the old Philadelphia Eagles.

But there is no reason for fights after scores. The emphasis on celebrations isn't as bad as it appeared last week.

From the inbox

Q: I wanted to get your thoughts about the high number of ACL tears we have been seeing this year in training camps as well as the last few years. Recently, a lot of high-profile players have gone down with ACL tears (Adrian Peterson, Robert Griffin III, Jeremy Maclin, etc.) and it is a good six months to one year for recovery. I never remember this many ACL injuries in the '80s or '90s. It seems kind of high. Do you think it's the turf? The cleats? Or just a matter of players being bigger and faster than 10 or 20 years ago?

Joe in New York

A: The turf isn't a factor, as most practices have been on grass. The theory going around is the time off for players. If you have players getting 22 of 29 weeks off before the start of training camps, the tendons aren't getting enough work. Rest is good for the joints, bad for the ligaments and tendons. The shock of coming to camp or minicamp after extended rest and then doing the football moves needed for practice may be the reason for the high numbers of ACL injuries and Achilles tears. This needs to be studied extensively. Safety is a big issue in games, but noncontact injuries are also a big loss for the players. The NFLPA needs to be open to studies to adjust the CBA so players can limit these types of injuries.

Q: With all the furor over Alex Rodriguez and his ban/appeal, why aren't we hearing more about connections between NFL players and Biogenesis.

Dave in Worcester, England

A: Surprisingly, the NFL hasn't been looking into it. Evidence hasn't been out there linking NFL players to Biogenesis. With all the leaked documents, you would think some football names would have surfaced, but so far they haven't. The NFL has to be monitoring the situation, and they sure need to be looking into it. It would be naïve to think some football players aren't involved. History has shown these pockets of PED clinics usually have enough contacts to involve more than one sport.

Q: Last offseason, Brandon Lloyd was one of the most coveted wide receivers in free agency. He then went on to have 911 receiving yards, which isn't outstanding but it's still a solid year. Why hasn't he landed on a team yet?

Brett in Tiffin, Ohio

A: Great question. Teams might be scared off by his attitude. During his career, Lloyd has shown he can create some friction in the locker room or not be the best player working with coaches. The stunning part is the Patriots not bringing him back. He has played his best football when Josh McDaniels has called the plays. That showed in Denver, St. Louis and New England. He caught 74 passes last year. The thinking might be that if McDaniels and the Patriots had problems with him, it's hands off. All that said, I would be stunned if someone doesn't sign him before the start of the regular season, particularly with all these receiver injuries. He's 32 years old and still has some productive years to offer.

Q: As a lifelong football fan, I recently went to a first football practice (Rams Fanfest). It was very difficult to assess overall quality and competitiveness of the team. It's easier to see individual talent in one-on-one drills. It's clear that overall talent has improved, but football is the ultimate team game. How can coaches get a good feel for the quality and competitiveness of their team from these practices? It seems like it is much easier for coaches in other sports, where they can scrimmage in practice.

Patricia in St. Louis

A: I was at the scrimmage. Jeff Fisher can learn a lot from these practices. Even though the Fanfest was basic and a little boring, coaches love to see players compete and love to see how they perform before the fans. Coaches pay attention to if the players execute the plays and do well in the drill work. They watch the seven-on-seven and team drills. For the players, it's a great experience because it's different. Two weeks of hitting each other in practices at the team facility becomes boring and tiring. Being in front of the fans ups the intensity.

Q: While I can understand the NFL trying to revamp the Pro Bowl to increase excitement and competition, I am concerned about one of the changes in particular: the removal of NFC vs. AFC. Here is why I am concerned: The NFC vs. AFC setup prevented teammates from being on opposing teams in the Pro Bowl. However, with this change, teammates could potentially be facing off against each other. I think this could encourage players to not play hard (just like we've seen in recent years). Do you think if Von Miller gets the chance to sack Peyton Manning, he's going to hit him and risk hurting his quarterback? Would Nnamdi Asomugha level Anquan Boldin as he's coming across the middle for a pass?

Joe in Lakewood, Ohio

A: You get to the point of why I have great reservations about this drastic change. If the idea is to create a more competitive game, how does having teammates go against teammates promote more realistic football? This game seems more like a game show than a football all-star game. Maybe it will grow on me, but having teammates go against teammates is going to be a problem. It almost promotes the idea that you will see more smiles and laughs after plays than competitive reactions. You'd want all-star games to be fun, but this is supposed to be tackle football. I don't know if I buy it.

Q: I find it interesting that Riley Cooper is being chastised for using the racially insensitive N-word by the Eagles. It doesn't appear they have any problem with the equally racially insensitive R-word attached to the Washington franchise.

Stephan in Plano, Texas

A: I can't argue with you and you raise a great point. The N-word should never be accepted in public. The Redskins reference is insensitive toward Native Americans, and that's sad. What's sad is that it has taken this long for enough of those affected to get this into public discussion. Because it has taken this long, I don't see anything changing. Maybe it should. I, like most football followers, grew up not knowing the word Redskins was a negative word. I grew up only knowing the word Redskins in reference to a football team. I'm sure there were complaints years ago, but we are only hearing them loud and clear now.

Q: I feel like this summer has seen more NFL players land in hot water than summers past. Obviously, seeing players tarnish the league's shield has to be a concern for the NFL. Do you see Roger Goodell and the NFL instituting any changes (in policy or the structure of the offseason) going forward to try to minimize the trouble players can get into?

Avi in San Diego

A: The NFL will certainly try to make changes. Goodell wants harsher penalties against first-time offenders for DUI. The league and Goodell are always going to push for more punishment, but the NFLPA has to agree to any radical changes. Goodell can use the player conduct policy to try to control multiple offenders and suspend them. The league would need to have NFLPA support to have tougher penalties against first-time offenders. I don't know if that is going to happen soon.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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