The Way We Hear It: Gray area remains with interpreting TD celebration rules

It'll be a fluid process for the league and players to determine celebration compliance

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New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) celebrates with wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) after scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) — Bill Kostroun

The NFL’s decision to again let players celebrate touchdowns, both roundly, and deservedly, praised, was also akin to a layup for the league. We’re hearing the interpretation of the new rule may not be as easy—at least not initially.

“When you read the language, you’ll understand,” Falcons president and competition committee chairman Rich McKay said Tuesday at the spring league meeting of the NFL’s revised TD celebration allowances. “And when you see the video, which we’ll share with all the players in the preseason, you’ll have a clear explanation.

"Doesn’t mean that it covers everything, because you’ll still have players that are creative. We’ve seen guys go get popcorn; they’ve done a lot. Good for them, but in our case we just want to try and make sure we bring as much clarity as we can.”

Clarity is obviously a good thing, but the Way We Hear It, there’s gray area yet to come into focus. Is it as ambiguous as the catch rule? Thankfully for all of us, it isn’t, but new senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron acknowledged while the rule generally should make his official’s lives easier, certain acts will be subject to interpretation.

“No doubt about it,” said Riveron.

Since sexually suggestive acts aren’t allowed, interpreting one thrust vs. two, as one veteran scribe joked Tuesday, won’t be of concern to officials. Moreover, with choreographed celebration no longer subject to penalty, officials won’t spend time trying to decipher whether the imaginary photo shoot last year involving Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham, for instance, happened organically, or whether it was premeditated.

After listening to McKay, Riveron, commissioner Roger Goodell and executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent discuss the intended changes Tuesday, it’s clear maintaining sportsmanship within celebration is of the utmost importance. And with a clear prioritization on eliminating taunting, despite the language remaining unchanged, we expect this to be one potential area of potential subjectivity.

“If we feel that you are performing an act at an opponent, directly at their bench, there will be a foul,” Riveron explained. “There’s no change in that language. Players also talked about standing over their opponent.”

Vincent thinks the preseason will be a critical time for continuing to develop a consensus on what forms of celebration will and won’t be considered acceptable.

“I think we’ll have a better idea [in the] preseason,” he said. “We’re constantly engaging with the player and with the fan. Preseason will give us some indication. Players have said they want to stay involved with this process.”

Indeed, Goodell shares Vincent's sentiment regarding this process being a fluid one.

"There’s a lot more work to be done and a lot more discussion to have with all entities to make sure we implement it correctly," said Goodell. "Also understanding that, whenever we establish a policy, people are going to push the limit. That’s going to be more of a job that we’re going to have to do moving forward to make sure we keep it within the structure of the standards that I think all of us collectively have a strong consensus around, which is what you see today."