November 14, 2011
Legal in the NFL: Scoring a touchdown and then running 100 yards down the sideline to give the ball to your girlfriend who's a cheerleader for the opposing team.
Not legal in the NFL: Scoring a touchdown and saluting the troops on Veterans Day weekend.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker(notes) was assessed with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Sunday after dropping to his knee and saluting in the end zone after a 56-yard touchdown reception from Tim Tebow(notes). The flag was thrown because Decker went to a knee, a celebration which has been illegal in the NFL since 2009.
Later, Decker posted a tweet about the penalty:
Ripping on the NFL is the reflexive move here. The league wouldn't let a player salute the troops! It's positively un-American! The troops fight for our freedoms while the NFL stifles that of their players!
To go that way would ignore the long history the league has of supporting our nation's armed forces. November has been a "Salute to Service" month in the NFL, a celebration which will include events for military personnel at all 32 NFL stadiums. The league has had a relationship with the USO since 1965, supports the Wounded Warrior Project and is partners with the Pat Tillman Foundation. Penalizing Decker doesn't mean the NFL doesn't care about veterans.
What it does care about is protecting its image, no matter the cost. The league is fine with honoring, remembering and supporting causes, so long as it's done the NFL's way. Wear league-approved pink shoes and towels to support breast cancer awareness month, don't pull out a ribbon from your sock to honor your aunt with the disease after scoring a touchdown. A team helmet sticker to honor a deceased player is all right, but not writing his number on your cleats.
The NFL is worried about the snowball effect of these acts. Decker's military salute will turn into a player honoring his alma mater in the end zone which will turn into a defender writing his daughter's name on his cleats because she has a piano recital that day. Pretty soon celebrations are all personal in nature, and shoes and jerseys are cluttered up like a sixth-grade girl's notebook.
Penalize Decker because he broke the rule by going to a knee, not because he saluted. When it comes time to assess fines for this week, let him slide. Decker's timing and technique may have been off (who salutes from one knee?) but his intentions were in the right place.
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