[Editor’s note: The following is the text of the report from the Competition Committee, entitled “Sportsmanship,” that was approved by the owners at the annual meeting on March 26, 2014. Attached to the report was Rule 12, Section 3, which contains the unsportsmanlike conduct rules.]
“Sportsmanship” in athletic competition can be defined in many ways. In the NFL, we believe this word conveys respect for the game, for opponents, for the game officials, and for the fans. In recent years, taunting, trash-talking, gloating, and a general lack of respect has become all too common in all sports and at all levels. This lack of respect and insensitivity toward others often transcends beyond the playing field into other parts of the workplace. It is a growing concern in every aspect of our game and affects every stakeholder in the NFL.
The Competition Committee believes that the NFL continues to have an obligation to set a standard for sportsmanship because we are the most visible and influential sports entity. Any conduct which adversely affects or reflects on the NFL, or which results in the erosion of public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of our games, or the integrity or good character of our participants, will not be tolerated. Children watch NFL games and emulate the behavior of our players in their own athletic competitions and in other aspects of their lives. We are in a position of leadership, and should not hesitate to lead.
Lack of mutual respect for each other and the game is clearly a concern for players, coaches, officials, and League personnel. In the Competition Committee’s annual survey, a number of League coaches identified the decline of sportsmanship as a matter that must be addressed. Members of the Coaches Subcommittee and General Managers Advisory Committee voiced their concerns over the declining level of respect in our game. Our game officials, who are tasked with enforcing the rules on the field, have also voiced their concern over what they routinely hear and observe on the field. After an incident that led to a suspension of a game official for making derogatory remarks to a player, the game officials’ union issued a statement calling “for an immediate end to a culture which tolerates the use of racially or sexually charged language by players, coaches, field personnel, or in stadium audio/video display.” In our meeting with the NFL Players Association and some of their representative players, the issue of respect and current on-field behavior was a major topic. The players expressed support for initiatives to enhance respect in the workplace, both on and off the field.
After receiving input from these various constituencies and viewing video of examples of such on-field behavior, the Competition Committee recommends an emphasis of the existing rule for Unsportsmanlike Conduct, rather than a rule change proposal. The purpose of this point of emphasis is to clearly identify, through the use of video, for players,coaches, and officials, what are unacceptable actions under this rule. In addition, the use of abusive language will be closely monitored by our game officials. We feel it is necessary to help eliminate a pattern of behavior that is simply unacceptable in the game. The current rules provide more than sufficient authority for game officials to issue warnings or penalties, and for the Commissioner to impose discipline, for abusive, obscene, or racially and sexually-charged language, as well as unsportsmanlike and disrespectful conduct towards opponents,coaches, officials, or fans.
Lack of respect will not be tolerated. Such lack of respect goes beyond actions on the field, such as getting in the face of an opponent or gloating after a play. This includes abusive, threatening, insulting, or profane language or gestures, and physical acts by coaches, players, and other club personnel directed at opponents, officials, game personnel, or fans.
The use of abusive, threatening, or insulting language to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League is covered under Unsportsmanlike Conduct in the playing rules. While the recent focus has been on what has been reported as the rampant use of certain racial slurs among NFL players, the Committee has discussed the use of any and all derogatory statements in relation to, among other things, a person’s race or sexual orientation. Such language is plainly within the scope of existing rules, and when players use racial slurs, statements regarding another player’s sexual orientation, or other “baiting or insulting” verbal abuse, the on-field game officials are empowered to use our current rules for taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct to penalize the actions.
As with other points of emphasis, specific acts that are listed in the playing rules will be put on video and shown to players, coaches, and officials. It is the Committee’s position that everything possible will be done to educate players, coaches, officials, media, and fans about the intent and the ramifications of this point of emphasis. It is important to note that this emphasis applies to all people in the team area, including coaches. The use of abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures toward game officials will not be tolerated and will be penalized.
Professionalism in the Workplace
The NFL demands the highest level of professionalism in the workplace. Recent events have provided the impetus to evaluate workplace conduct in the NFL, both on and off the field. The culture of every aspect of the NFL workplace, most notably the locker room, will be examined with an unprecedented level of scrutiny. The Committee has been advised that the League office will implement league-wide initiatives to educate and train all stakeholders on appropriate conduct in the NFL workplace. The Committee discussed this topic in detail and supports any initiative that addresses this matter, whether at the League level or at the club level. The Committee recommends that any initiative focus on education and training of everyone involved in the game.