My Dad and I watch a lot of sports together, and I’ve noticed a few things that he usually says during football games in particular. Be it college or professional football there is a 68% chance of my Dad saying, “quit showboating and just hand the ball to the ref,” after a player does some fancy dance after a scoring drive. There is a 100% chance of my Dad following up that statement with this statement: “act like you’ve been there before.” He is perfectly okay with an enthusiastic fist pump, but the ball better be in the official’s hands within five seconds of the score.
If the game is close he gives a little extra leeway to celebrate. Maybe a fist pump and a chest bump, but the player still has to get the ball to the official quickly. What he cannot stand more than anything is if a team is destroying another team and does some elaborate end zone dance, or if a team that is down by several touchdowns manages to finally make a decent tackle and the defender crosses his arms and does the “no-no” shake of the head. He is not a fan of showboating when a team is winning, or of defenders celebrating the one time their team wraps up the winning team’s running back. I believe he finds both of those actions pretty classless.
I take the same view of my Dad but for different reasons. As a sports official I am less concerned with how cool or funny a celebration is. I am concerned with it escalating into a bigger problem. The 2013 NFHS lacrosse rulebook has this to say:
Rule 5.10.1.c – [Players may not] bait or call undue attention to oneself, or any other act considered unsportsmanlike by the officials.
Fans look at celebrations and wonder why officials flag the players for just having a little fun, but that is not how we view excessive celebrations that call undue attention to the goal scorer or their team. Imagine you are the losing team and the winning team just scored their fifteenth unanswered goal. Then the shooting team decides to do this:
You would be justifiably pissed off, and you might decide to do something foolish if the winning team does something similar following another goal. We officials are not trying to ruin the winning team’s fun, they are choosing to win without class. Plus, they scored! It’s already fun to score! Why rub salt and cayenne pepper into the wound?
I had a game that was 17-1 to start the fourth quarter. The winning team was being very respectful in their domination, but three young fans walked into the stands yelling to the losing team, “17-1! You suck! Come back when you learn to play lacrosse!” I saw the head coach of the losing team looking both angry and a little sad, and when the ball went out of bounds I called an official’s time out and told him I would take care of the three knuckleheads. The rules state that the head coach is responsible for the spectators so I went to the head coach of the winning team and pointed out the three young men who were not representing his team or his school very well. He promptly kicked them out of the stadium. That is the mark of a classy program and the game wrapped up without incident.
If I hadn’t stepped in and had the coach exercise his authority, those fans could have incited some on-field mayhem. Some goal celebrations bump up against my threshold for calling a penalty. In those cases I go up to the player who celebrated and tell him that I’m okay with what he did happening once, but that if he does it again or goes further my flag will hit the ground before he finishes his Macarena dance.
I’m okay with being called a fun-killer by the fans, but I am not okay with a huge melee breaking out on the field and having the fans go, “why didn’t you do anything?” What I and my officiating brethren do is never popular, but we are not out there for the player’s fun. We are out there for safety and fairness. Excessive celebrations raise the game temperature and impact player safety. If you want to celebrate, pump your arm into the air and get to your spot for the next faceoff. As my Dad would say, “act like you’ve been there before!”
Here are the Top-10 Touchdown Celebrations before the NFL outlawed most celebrations:
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