Report: NFL pleased with most taunting flags, not planning to address rule

·3 min read

Outside of the folks wearing suits or holding clipboards, there's near universal agreement around the NFL about the league's new emphasis on penalizing taunting. 

Fans hate it. Analysts hate it. Tom Brady hates it.

But the league itself? It's getting exactly what it wanted. And it's perfectly happy with the majority of taunting flags that have been thrown over the course of the season's first two weeks.

According to USA Today's Mike Jones, the NFL agrees with nine of the 11 taunting penalties that were flagged in the first two weeks. And it has no intention of revisiting the new emphasis on taunting that was announced during the preseason.

From the report:

"The NFL has no immediate plans to request the competition committee review the matter for possible modification of enforcement, a person with knowledge of the league's plans said.

"Through two weeks, 11 players received penalties for taunting. After review by the league, all but two of the penalties met the league’s criteria, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter."

Controversial taunting calls

Those 11 flags? The tally matches the total from the entire 2020 season. It eclipses nine total taunting flags thrown in 2019. They include an infraction for spinning the football

Bills cornerback Levi Wallace got dinged for waving an incomplete sign. 

Seahawks cornerback D.J. Reed drew a flag for ... flexing?

 Meanwhile Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson didn't draw a flag for this. 

The two flags that the NFL didn't agree with aren't clear. But they're weren't egregious enough in the NFL's eyes to be a problem.

NFL's pro-taunting flag campaign

So what exactly constitutes taunting? The league appears to be taking an approach not dissimilar to the U.S. Supreme Court's classic "I know it when I see it" stance on obscenity — and leaving that judgment in the hands of individual officials. 

After a torrent of criticism on social media Sunday, the NFL's campaign in favor of taunting enforcement was in full force this week. 

"We’re trying to make sure we don't end up with a brawl on hour hands,” Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera told reporters on Tuesday without citing the last time he saw an actual brawl on an NFL field.

Rivera is a member of the NFL's competition committee that oversees changes to league rules. 

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 22: A penalty flag on the field in the first half during a game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 22, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The NFL is fine with most of the taunting flags. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh played the what-about-the-kids card in defending the league's stance on Wednesday. 

"Kids watch us all the time," he said. 

Taunting penalties are severe. They count for 15 yards and have the ability to wipe out big plays. They can kill or sustain drives. A second taunting penalty for a player results in his ejection.

Thankfully for the league, a taunting penalty in 2021 hasn't made a clear impact on the outcome of a game. Yet. At the rate flags are flying, it seems inevitable that one will. And just imagine if it happens in a playoff game. 

The NFL is fine with all of this. And it doesn't seem swayed by overwhelming feedback otherwise.