Pots & pans: This season, let’s enjoy NFL players celebrating the way they want
They’ve got more freedom now under the rules to have some fun. Now bring on the creativity.
“… We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown,” Goodell said in an announcement to fans. “And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements.”
— Kevin Seifert writing for ESPN and quoting NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s explanation of the NFL’s new, relaxed celebration rules.
With NFL training camps opening for veterans this week, the usual questions tumble in the air like an opening kickoff: Will the New England Patriots win it all again? Will the Cleveland Browns at least take a step toward mediocrity? And which new wayward and prodigal son will the Dallas Cowboys welcome to their stable of talented but troubled players? To those questions, I add one more. How will the players react to being able to express themselves with more freedom on the field?
With black Americans dominating the league, especially among the big playmakers, past restrictions on celebrations became de facto regulations and restrictions on black players, especially the stars.
This season’s players won’t have carte blanche: Acts that delay the game, acts that are deemed offensive and acts that are directed at opponents will be prohibited. Still, the players will enjoy more freedom to, as Goodell said, express their joy and celebrate the game. But what will they do with it?
Will they do more creative and exciting things? Or will they continue with the usual head-bobbing and chest-beating, the equivalent of 3 yards and a cloud of dust? If it’s the latter, fans will have to endure a continuation of what I call the skipping bobblehead and the chest-thumper. The skipping bobblehead vigorously shakes his head up and down while skipping after plays. The chest-thumper, a move that underscores the atavistic nature of the sport, triumphantly beats his chest with a fist after plays.
Offensive players present those moves even when they haven’t made a big or important play, even when their plays will have little to do with the outcome of the game or season. And sometimes, defensive players bobblehead, skip and beat their chests, play after play, as someone like quarterback Tom Brady methodically leads his team down the field to the winning touchdown.
It’s as if the players have divorced their stylings from the context of the game, the way some young singers do when they overpower every song with the same trills, swoops and moans.
NFL players play their game on the high wire without the safety net of fully guaranteed, long-term contracts. Their game is brutal and exacting: Any play could cost them their careers. More important, any play could render them unable to walk without a limp, sit without pain or think without confusion in their post-football lives.
Consequently, I’ve never begrudged the players their celebrations, even those that seem to be based upon risqué rap videos. It’s their game and their celebrations. But I’d like them to be more judicious and creative in their celebrations: Make them count the way Desmond Howard did in 1991, when the then-Michigan star broke into the Heisman Trophy pose after a blistering and brilliant touchdown play against Ohio State. Michigan won the game. Howard, now an ESPN college football analyst, won the Heisman.
Maybe NFL players can study film of dynamic stylists — on and off the field, like Billy “White Shoes” Johnson to Miguel — and draw inspiration from them.
And it won’t be just the black players who might have to go back to the film room, the dance floor or elsewhere in popular culture for inspiration.
Offensive linemen of all backgrounds could break into a line dance after clearing the way for a teammate to score a touchdown — a new, 1-ton take on the Electric Slide.
Christian McCaffrey, an electric all-purpose player at Stanford, could bring the wit and zaniness of his school’s marching band to the NFL; he could collaborate with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and throw down some ebony-and-ivory hand jive after a touchdown run or goal-line plunge.
And it’s long past time for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to update his touchdown championship-belt celebrations, although he’d have to double-check how such a change could affect his endorsements.
Furthermore, the players can present moves that represent the places where they play. Which is to say, Detroit players could use their celebrations to meld the Temptations’ suave moves of 1960s Motown with the exuberance of today’s Greektown, “Hey, hey, hey” to “Opa!”
After touchdowns, Philadelphia Eagles players, so cool and so cold, could strike a quick pose, as if waiting for the next play, just as so many brothers have done on the street corners and in the clubs in my hometown.
After making critical first downs, players in New Orleans could break into a buoyant second line dance.
Are you ready to let the good times roll? Are you ready for some celebrations?
Are you ready for some football?