Lincicome: Sacks and tackles may break my bones, but the NFL's taunting rule is silly

  • Chicago Bears linebacker Cassius Marsh defends during (59) an NFL football game, Monday, November 8, 2021 in Pittsburgh.

    Chicago Bears linebacker Cassius Marsh defends during (59) an NFL football game, Monday, November 8, 2021 in Pittsburgh.

Updated 11/19/2021 2:42 PM

One of the iconic sports photos is Muhammad Ali, then still Cassius Clay, standing over the fallen Sonny Liston, hands at his side, his mouth in a sneer, proclaiming his dominance.

Now, that's taunting.


There is slight but still some irony that the focus of the active enforcement of taunting in the NFL features a Bears linebacker named Cassius Marsh, not nearly so blatant, nor important, as the original Cassius over Liston. This Cassius did not even linger over the sacked body of Ben Roethlisberger, but probably was just as elated in the "emotion" of the moment.

What happened next, of course, was a penalty that might have cost the Bears a victory and then a general choosing of sides, twitter, twitter, over who was right, who was wrong and, mostly, disappointment that the NFL has become the No Fun League again.

The effort to civilize football, parlorize it if you will, is a loser. Courteous conduct is the exact opposite of what the game is all about. Hit people, hurt people, but don't mock them. Oh, please.

How the Bears became the center of rudeness was inevitable since, when anyone thinks of badassness, the Bears jump instantly to mind, Mike Ditka and Dick Butkus thick neck and neck for the honor.

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No team becomes the Monsters of the Midway, if not exactly monsters lately, because they say "excuse me," while slamming a ball carrier to the ground. But today's Bears are still tough enough, as is every other team in a league where brutality is more than just Sunday sound effects.

Tsk-tsking this taunting business, this vague disrespect for someone whom you might have just concussed, that's like putting a pillow case on an anvil, whipped cream on barbed wire, trying to hide a hammer in a handbag, pretending lug nuts are croutons. I could go on and on, but the point is, you can't cover up what it really is.

Football is cruel and violent and the men who play it are mean and brutal. The very least harm one can do to another has to be laughter.

All sports have unwritten rules of conduct, say baseball for instance. You don't flip the bat after a home run, or circle bases too slowly, or hit a 3-0 pitch for a grand slam with a big lead, as we saw this season with the White Sox.

We think of Michael Jordan's lolling tongue as he went up for a slam dunk. Stick a tongue out on the NFL and you are penalized.

Bad behavior is handled in hockey with gloves down, fist to face responses. The sport even has players loosely identified as "enforcers."


No such thing in football where, on every play, huge lugs are already beating the snot out of each other. Enforcement is left to the hall monitors in striped shirts and their little yellow flags.

Yes, there is an actual NFL rule against such behavior: "baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams."

Ill will? Packers hate Bears. Cowboys hate Washington, Bengals hate Browns and on and on. Rivalries are built on ill will.

The rule doesn't say anything about "posturing," which is apparently what the Bears' Marsh did. That is up to the wisdom of the officials who borrow the old Judge Potter Stewart definition of obscenity. He knows it when he sees it.

No ill will? Come on. Break a leg, crack a rib, sack (a taunting word, biblically and statistically) a quarterback. But no sneering, no jeering, no goading, no teasing, no insulting, no ridiculing. Do not taunt. He who derides is offsides.

For a while the NFL was very serious about "excessive celebrations," as if being happy needed limits. Sure, there were signature sillinesses like the Ickey Shuffle or currently Aaron Rodgers' championship belt pantomime. But the league backed off its stiff-necked objection to joy.

The NFL has conceded that "emotion" is OK, allowing such things as the Lambeau Leap or the Gronk Spike or various choreographed end zone celebrations. Catching a pass for a first down must be punctuated with the receiver pointing downfield.

The NFL will come around to admitting its nature, that taunting is much the same as a feral animal marking its territory. Men are men. Alas.

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