Individuality Ignored in NFL

Darren Zaslau, Sports Editor

Until recently, “twerking” and “football” have probably never been used in the same sentence. Thanks to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, they are now. In the team’s, 38–16 win over Washington in week one of the 2016 NFL season, Brown gave a performance to remember with both his athletic and dancing abilities.

After burning down the sideline past Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland to catch a 26-yard touchdown pass, Brown showed off his twerking skills in the end zone in celebration of his second touchdown reception of the game.

Unfortunately for Brown, his moves cost him a steep price, $9,115 in fines. To add insult to injury, the Steelers were also penalized 15 yards on the ensuing point-after-touchdown for unsportsmanlike conduct. Brown is not the sole victim in the NFL’s pursuit of curtailing celebrations in week one.

The league fined seven players for celebrations in the first week of play alone, making the NFL $75,961 richer. Although seemingly costly, Brown’s fine was on the cheaper side as three players, including New York Giants wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, were each fined $12,154 for excessive celebrations as well.

We could easily end this discussion by stating that the NFL should err on the side of leniency when issuing celebration fines in order to be less like “Big Brother,” but the issues run deeper than that. Though, this is just the beginning of the NFL wrongfully intruding on players’ individuality.

Not only was Brown charged $9,115 for his improper touchdown dance, he was also fined an additional $6,076 for uniform and equipment violations. During the game against Washington, he wore baby-blue cleats instead of ones in mandated team colors. Once again, Brown had company as Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was fined the same amount of money for sporting Kanye West’s Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 cleats.

The NFL needs to be strict in its enforcement of rules and regulations. Enforcing fines for substance abuse and unnecessary roughness calls, such as roughing the passer, horse collar tackles, chop blocks and late hits, are all necessary. But, the celebration and uniform fines need to stop. Let the players show some personality, I say.

Fans love to watch football for the hard-hitting action and competitive play. But, the league needs to realize people also tune in for the entertainment factor. When a player scores a touchdown, let him do his 10-second dance. Don’t fine him over $10,000 for expressing himself.

After Brown was fined for his dancing and footwear, the media asked him about the repercussions. The money he owed the NFL was “nothing to a boss,” Brown said. Since star-players like Brown have such high salaries, a $10,000 fine will have not have a financial impact, thus perpetuating players to continue celebrating.

Throughout the 2015 season, 181 players were fined. Though fines are common, especially for celebrations and uniform and equipment violations, it’s about more than the money to these players. They want to show individuality.

Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas is at the forefront of the players’ movement to exercise their freedom of expression in the league. Last year, Thomas tweeted, “The NFL should take notes from the NBA. Allow us to express our creativity without fining us. Celebrate our players while we R still living.”

The problem is that the NFL struggles with relating to its players. Particularly, the league has a difficult time in grasping why these players love football or who they are playing for; and I don’t mean the name on the front of their jersey.

For example, Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams was fined $5,787 last year for having “We will find a cure” written across his eye black in support of his mother and four aunts he lost to breast cancer. Is the NFL justified for fining a man playing for the loved ones he lost? The answer is simple: no.

In the future, the NFL needs to put itself in the players’ shoes and understand why these million-dollar-making individuals play the game and want to celebrate what makes them unique. Until this happens, personality will be penalized every game.