The NFL has been cracking down on “excessive celebration performances,” and salsa dancing is being cited as one celebration that’s apparently too much for some to handle. By now, defining a “celebration” has had to happen, and Dean Blandino—the senior VP for Officiating— spoke up about why the NFL is putting a nix on dances. “The rules haven’t changed in terms of what is and what isn’t taunting. We’re not trying to legislate emotion out of the game,” he explains. However, there have been complaints (seemingly many of which are anonymous) that these so-called celebrations are actually taunts and decrease the morale and integrity of the game.
Beyond dancing, Blandino says that “anything that mimics a violent act” or “anything that mimics weaponry” is strictly not allowed and would likely result in a penalty. What does that have to do with dancing? A lot, as it turns out! Blandino points to the famous “bow and arrow” celebratory move from Josh Norman as being too similar to weaponry, which is why it resulted in a penalty. However, Tom Brady’s homage to Usain Bolt’s lightning bolt move was given a pass because it didn’t suggest war or weaponry. There are some folks who think a lightning bolt certainly seems like a weapon, but since it hasn’t been used as such since the time of Zeus, apparently the statute of limitations has passed. (Of course, comparing those two also welcomes questioning of racial profiling in professional sports, but that’s an issue for another time). Right now, it’s all about dancing on the field, particularly salsa dancing, and whether or not Blandino will be nixing it for good.
What’s Cause for Celebration?
According to Blandino, a celebration is too much “if it’s choreographed, if it’s excessive, if it’s prolonged.” Those three factors are certainly subjective. What makes a celebration excessive? What’s prolonged? And what exactly is choreography, and how can it be proven? Maybe some players are just naturally more gifted at coming up with moves on the fly. The famed Victor Cruz video of him dancing a salsa-esque rhythm after scoring a touchdown against the Cowboys has spread like wildfire. However, Blandino says, “The salsa dance is fine. But when his teammate comes and takes the Polaroid picture, that’s a choreographed demonstration.”
How someone else taking a photo makes a celebration or dance “choreographed” is unclear—as choreography has absolutely nothing to do with photography. That’s the tough part about having rules that aren’t defined and are highly subjective. Technically, Blandino or any other NFL head honcho could declare one celebration okay and one penalty-worthy one a whim.
Why is Blandino and the NFL so against celebrations? He claims that letting “colorful” celebrations happen could set a bad precedence. “Believe me, if we let this go it will continue to build and players will continue to try to outdo each other. It leads to altercations,” he says.
This has been an argument that’s raged for years, but was rekindled when the Cleveland Browns’ Andrew Hawkins caught a touchdown pass and, instead of celebrating, he made a production of putting the ball on the turf and mechanically walking away. Later, he said it was an answer to the NFL’s severe crackdown on celebrations. Players aren’t the only ones who are annoyed. Many fans have also spoken up, calling the NFL the “no fun league.” Fans have also been asking questions about the seemingly inconsistent rule enforcement. Hawkins says, “Everything you do gets fined nowadays, right? Me seeing the tape of what not to do, and I get it, rules are rules, but I thought it would be funny to do that and troll the whole situation, so that’s what I did.”
He’s referring to a tape released by Blandino outlining celebrations—or at least trying to. Last year, celebration penalties skyrocketed, although the NFL has maintained the rules haven’t changed. Instead, officials have been asked to be extra diligent to enforce those rules. Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) was fined in week one for twerking post-touchdown, and was fined again in week for four pelvic thrusts. Brown had previously been featured on Dancing with the Stars, so he certainly had some moves to show off!
What do you think of NFL celebrations and dances? For some fans, it’s a beloved staple that’s under scrutiny, but others agree that it can lead to taunting.