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Opinion: Dumb NFL taunting rule, which hurts the sport, is really about control of Black bodies

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/21/2021 Mike Freeman, USA TODAY
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It was August when one of the most respected people in the NFL, and a member of the league's competition committee, went full dork.

"We get kind of sick and tired of the taunting that does go on from time to time on the field," said Giants co-owner John Mara.

I know dorks. I'm a dork. I sleep with a protractor under Star Trek posters. But even I'm hardly bothered by taunting. The idea that most fans are "sick and tired" of taunting likely just isn't true. Most fans, I believe, think taunting is all in good fun, and the people who don't like taunting, in my opinion, are humorless dorks who probably call the cops when a neighbor mows the lawn too early on Sunday morning.

a group of baseball players playing a football game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) taunts Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium. © Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) taunts Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium.

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In fact, fans would probably like more taunting as long as it was fun, and not over the top. We really don't see players going too far with taunting.

More: Patriots' Belichick backs NFL's emphasis on taunting penalties: 'I think that's poor sportsmanship'

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The taunting rule was always going to be a massive problem after its emphasis emerged from the bowels of NFL owner diamond-cutting uptightness. This rule is what happens when khakis and mayonnaise have a baby.

It is, without question, one of the worst rules the NFL has ever passed. There are few moments when fans and players both agree something is stupid and this is one of those times.

The rule is also something else besides an error in judgment, and offensive to dorks, it's about control. Specifically, and mostly, it's about control of Black bodies.

The examples of the ridiculousness of the rule has been well covered. Why the league enacted the rule in the first place hasn't been.

Control of the player base, which is 70 percent Black, has long been the mantra of NFL ownership and some front office members. Owners, mostly, don't see the players as partners. They see them as something to dominate. They still see them as cattle, something stated blatantly by former Dallas Cowboys executive Tex Schramm.

There's long been a racial component to this, and while the league has gotten better in how it treats Black players, it's still, at times, Donald Trump adjacent. The way football essentially banished Colin Kaepernick for protesting social injustice is a perfect example of how the NFL uses control as weaponry. The league used Kaepernick as a cautionary tale. You can only protest in the way we deem appropriate. If you step outside of those boundaries, you'll get the Kaepernick treatment.

Instead of, say, using Cole Beasley as an example, as he actively undermines the health and safety of players by pushing an anti-vax agenda, and embarrasses football with various ridiculous stunts, the NFL puts its muscle into a rule few want, need or asked for.

There's a reason for that. It goes back to control. It's more important to the league to wrangle its uppity players than it is to confront an anti-vaxxer who can actually do real damage.

I've heard various theories from players and agents over the past few weeks about why the NFL felt it necessary to emphasize this rule and some of them go beyond just simple control. One theory is that the league knew it might face potential backlash from conservatives over some of the social justice measures it planned to enact this season, and the taunting rule emphasis was a way to appease conservatives who don't like the measures. The taunting rule is a sort of social justice counterbalance.

There are times when the NFL is racially The Land That Time Forgot, stuck somewhere in the 1950s. Then it surprises and does something progressive. Then it stumbles and does something absurd. Like push a taunting rule.

There are likely some Black players and coaches who don't mind the rule. But I can tell you, with certainty, there is growing outrage among a large swath of the player base. It's only a matter of time before numerous players speak out against the rule.

As they should.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Dumb NFL taunting rule, which hurts the sport, is really about control of Black bodies

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