Let’s perform a thought exercise. You are an NFL running back.
Check that, you are an undrafted, undersized, underdog NFL running back fighting for a roster spot. You’re playing in your first career NFL preseason game, participating in your first series of the game. Your first rush was nothing special. Your second rush went eight yards, but short of a first down.
You take the ball one more time, on 2nd-and-2. You find a hole for the first down and meet your first tackle attempt two yards later. But you don’t stop there. It doesn’t matter a linebacker has his arms around you, it doesn’t matter his teammates have joined him in attempting to stop you. You, all 5-foot-8 and 220 pounds of you, keep your legs moving until you’re 14 yards past the line of scrimmage.
It might be the most impressive thing you do all preseason. You get up, look down at the man you just carried 10 yards and unleash a primal yell before walking away.
A yellow flag flies into your peripheral vision. You have just committed a taunting penalty. Your progress is erased. Your team gets the first down, but is one yard short of where it was when the play began.
This is the experience of Indianapolis Colts running back Benny LeMay. This is the future of the NFL:
The NFL wrapped up its first round of preseason games on Sunday, but it wasn’t until the final game of the week that the implications of the league’s heavier taunting restrictions were fully realized.
In simply looking down at Carolina Panthers linebacker Josh Bynes, yelling and walking away, LeMay committed the kind of celebration the league has decided it no longer wants on the field, as NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay explained in an official video:
“The NFL Players Association, coaches and competition committee have all made a strong statement regarding respect among everyone on the field,” McKay said in the video. “We saw an increase in actions that clearly are not within the spirit and intent of this rule and not representative of respect due opponents and others on the field.
“Game officials have been instructed to strictly enforce the taunting rules, and players and coaches are reminded that two taunting penalties committed by an individual player will result in automatic disqualification. In addition, the taunting player may be fined and/or suspended depending on the severity of the actions.”
LeMay, an undrafted running back out of Charlotte, would finish the game with 26 rushing yards and a touchdown on six attempts in a 21-18 Colts win. Had he committed one more taunting penalty, he would have been automatically ejected. He was much more, er, respectful after the touchdown.
This apparently what the NFL wants. All success at the direct expense of an opponent — a powerful run up the middle, a highlight-reel catch, a sack at a critical junction of the game — must be celebrated without showing up said opponent.
Forget the No Fun League, this is basically Major League Baseball.
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