The NFL, like every sports league, enters every season with some new points of emphasis for their officials. These are usually put in place to try and combat something that got out of hand the year prior as players are quick to recognize when things are and are not getting called and take advantage accordingly.
This year, though, the point of emphasis for the NFL isn’t a crackdown on some kind of actual illegal play, but an attempt to cut down on taunting on the field by adjudicating those moments with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. If this sounds like it is sure to result in some terrible calls that drive fans insane, well you would be correct. Already this preseason we have seen flags come out for some weak taunting penalties — balls being spun, etc. — but Sunday in the Colts-Panthers game we got the worst one yet when Colts back Benny LeMay got hit with a taunting penalty for rightfully flexing after dragging the pile for 10 yards.
Taunting is a huge emphasis by the referees this season. Benny LeMay with great effort. However, he was flagged for taunting after the pay.
— Allen Lively (@AllenLivelyLOF) August 15, 2021
LeMay doesn’t seem to do anything beyond get up, have a brief word for the defender he just took for a ride, and turns excitedly to celebrate what was a sensational run, but he still gets hit with a 15-yard penalty. It is baffling that the NFL would decide that people want to see more flags like this rather than fewer, as if the majority of fans are aghast at a man flexing a little bit after a play. There are certainly moments where players will cross a line with taunting, but it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” things. A guy being fired up about a run and doing something as innocuous as what LeMay did here certainly doesn’t fit that criteria and if the NFL keeps flagging stuff like this all season, it is going to be a long one for fans who will quickly grow tired of flags and frustrated by what is sure to be selective enforcement.