NFL rulemakers are straight outta London

NFL rulemakers are straight outta London

The National Football League was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, renaming itself for the 1922 season.

Little did we know that all this time, the NFL — America’s most-watched sport — has been taking cues from English playwright/poet/actor William Shakespeare.

Go figure.

It took Willie two years to write the comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing,” published in 1623 in what is known as the First Folio.

By comparison, NFL wigs need only a few minutes to author rule changes that ultimately prove to be — you guessed it — much ado about nothing.

Not that the NFL didn’t have taunting rules before the 2021 season. Such guidelines have existed for decades. But a publicly announced effort to crack down on taunting and actually enforce the league’s sacred rulebook resulted in a deluge of opinions — for and against — such unsportsmanlike acts. Players, coaches and fans went after the NFL as if treason had been committed against George “Papa Bear” Halas himself.

Yet here we are, just three weeks into the season, finding out that taunting is hardly the problem antagonists may have perceived it to be. For the record, just 11 taunting fouls were called in all of 2020. But 11 taunting penalties were flagged in the first two weeks of the 2021 taunting pandemic.

Only two taunting infractions were cited in the Week 3 games, perhaps signaling the outbreak is under control for one of two reasons: players took heed and learned not to taunt or the under-pressure zebras turned blind eyes to offenders, kind of like they do when wide receivers push off in order to create space between themselves and their defenders. (It’s a lot easier to make the catch when you’ve pummeled your opponent, right?)

The 15-yard penalties that were marched off seemed appropriate. The fines imposed, however, seemed more subjective. Seahawks guard Gabe Jackson got a $12,875 fine. Chargers tight end Jared Cook, Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, Bears safety Tashaun Gipson and Bengals safety Vonn Bell each got $10,300. Bills cornerback Levi Wallace was fined $9,526, and Seahawks cornerback D.J. Reed was fined $5,111.

Steelers guard Trai Turner got — understandably — the biggest fine for unsportsmanlike conduct in Week 2. His $15,450 fine was for spitting at an opponent, which was an infraction that drew fines and ejections even before this year’s emphasis on taunting.

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson took a showy heels-over-head plunge into the end zone against the Chiefs and wasn’t flagged at all.

Now here’s another case of inconsistency in the rules. Remember Oct. 13, 2019, when the Browns’ Odell Beckham, Jr. was penalized and fined for a uniform infraction? In a game against the Seahawks, OBJ was fined $14,037 because his "pants failed to cover the knee area."

Yes, Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3, Item (4) of the 2019 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League states, “Pants must be worn over the entire knee area; pants shortened or rolled up to meet the stocking above the knee are prohibited."

Did you know each week the NFL dispatches 64 uniform inspectors — former players assigned to a team’s home game — to ensure both clubs comply with the league’s uniform rules?

So what games have the refs been watching this season? Except on the offensive and defensive lines, the majority of players are wearing short pants that look like they came from PE class or something. No penalties? Something has changed since OBJ’s much-publicized transgression.

Much ado about nothing? You make the call.

And another thing: This year the NFL owners approved a rule change to allow running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, defensive backs and linebackers to wear single-digit numbers. Previously, only quarterbacks, kickers and punters could don them.

Have you noticed the impact this has had on the game? Me neither.

Furthermore, despite changes made to the kick-off rules over the years, the kick-off remains the single-most boring play in the game. After all the hype and build-up, a guy booms the ball into the end zone and there is no return.

Please, once and for all, rid us of this malady. Put the dadgum ball at the 25 and get on with it. (The onside kick, though watered down, should remain “as is” because of its drama and entertainment value.)

Final thought: Do we really need to be constantly changing the rules when, for the most part, the changes are much ado about nothing?

As the character Claudio said in Act 2, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s classic in the Globe Theatre: “Let every eye negotiate for itself. And trust no agent, for beauty is a witch.”

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