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NFL orders crack down on taunting, offensive language



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2014 Points of Emphasis

In light of some high-profile on-field incidents of taunting and offensive language in the 2013 season, the NFL is instructing its officials to crack down on acts of taunting and abusive language against players and officials beginning this fall by calling unsportsmanlike conduct fouls on the offenders. It is part of a broader effort that includes awareness for players and teams to be extra conscious of maintaining typical standards of workplace decorum. (See the Competition Committee’s report.)

After the most recent NFL Competition Committee meeting and the NFL owners meeting, league officials spoke adamantly about the need to change the culture on the field.

Former NFL player John Wooten, who pushed for these changes, said, “If you talk to officials or [vice president of officiating] Dean Blandino, the disrespect runs rampant out there.  It’s horrible.” Wooten is chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance which works with the NFL on diversity issues. The alliance is named for a black player and coach who played in the inaugural NFL season.

Jeff Fisher is the head coach of the Rams and a member of the Competition Committee, and says changes will start before the players take the field in 2014:

We’re going to clean the game up on the field between the players — the in-your-face taunting, those type of things, the language.  We’re going to raise the standard…We are going to effect change immediately as early as the [organized team activities] when players come back.  We’ve got to change our conduct on the field. We’ve got to bring the element of respect to the highest level back to our game.

It will be very interesting to see how the NFL will back the officiating staff if the officials strictly call unsportsmanlike conduct fouls for taunting.  This effort to change the culture will be more successful if the coaches and players take the initiative to clean up the language and respect on the field.  The officials can force change through consistent flags on offenders, but if the players and coaches buy in right from the start, it will be easier for everyone involved.  And, it make for a more respectful game, which will be a win for all participants.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"