Sunday, October 17, 2010

Celebrate Charitably

A discussion came up recently about celebrations in football. The blown fumble recovery by Ronald Flemons in the Canadian Football League, losing the football in attempting celebration right before he crossed the goal line on September 17th of this year (with no one near him at the time) certainly ranks with the year's best. Certainly the Cowboy's Leon Lett lost fumble against the Buffalo Bills during Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 as he began his celebration early has to rank up there near the top of anyone's list. The most recent however was the another muffed Cowboy celebration by Marc Columbo on a touchdown by Jason Witten on October 10th of this year. 

While the touchdown occurred, Columbo missed Witten in a bump in the ensuing frolic, fell to the ground, and was penalized for excessive celebration. The Tennessee Titans returned the 15 yard kickoff after the penalty 73 yards, and this set up a game winning touchdown. But it's not the penalty that cost their team the game that should upset fans, the fumble that gave away the sure touchdown, nor the league rules against such behavior. 

After all, football players celebrate anything and everything during the game these days. Run back a kickoff, make a sack or a tackle, intercept a pass, or merely be standing in close proximity to the end of a play and you'll find the players celebrating. It doesn't seem to matter if they were a part of the play's success or failure, as long as they can get the cameras to focus on them for their 'look at me performance'. 

I'm reminded of the legendary Green Packer coach Vince Lombardi quote to a running back after an exuberant end zone celebration upon scoring a touchdown: "Next time you make a touchdown, act like you've been there before." The same might be said of any of these athletes, whose expectation of special attention for performing their job is exemplified by such behavior (a job they get paid for rather well, I might add)

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not talking about a spontaneous bit of emotional release. I'm talking about a carefully choreographed move that has been rehearsed to achieve the desired affect. In fact, I would say that any athlete who has thought about or rehearsed what he will do in the case of success has focused too much attention on the celebration and not enough on achieving it and deserves more than the TV time that his performance will undoubtedly merit. 

As you might expect, my thinking on the subject is a little outside the box. I am not therefore in favor of current league rules against celebration, even though I am vehemently against 'rehearsed' celebration. In fact, I would like to see the NFL do away with the excessive celebration penalty completely. Instead, I would like each team to pick out a charitable cause, and fine the players involved in a celebration of any kind on the playing field. Not just the touchdown celebrations, but the sack dances, tackle shimmies, interception fist pumping, and kickoff run back whirligigs. 

Considering the significant amounts of money that these athletes earn, I think a reasonable fine might be about $10,000 per offense. No appeal to the league, the union, or the media for such behavior, just cough up the cash and move on. If what you really want is to make the highlights on ESPN Sportscenter ... go for it! Just remember that you are going to have to pay for the privilege of doing so afterward. And if your friends choose to celebrate with you, they will likewise need to pull out their checkbooks. 

As for the owners, for their lack of control over their employees they can dig into their pockets as well and hand out some matching funds to those expended by their players in the spirit of shared pain and revenue. People currently claim that the lack of celebration has taken something from the game. I propose to bring it back in all its glory. If this is what the public wants, its the obligation of the NFL, the teams, and the owners to provide such entertainment. After all, ticket prices for fans have never been as high as they are today, and they deserve their money's worth. 

Let's try and show a little caring however, and provide something to worthy causes at the same time. If the NFL thinks that a few pink chin straps, shoes, gloves, and towels in the name of breast cancer is a worthy effort; think of the good that they might do for many worthy causes through such a policy. Now I don't expect that anything like this has a snowball's chance in hell of happening, especially in a bargaining year and with owners and players at each others' throats and an impending lockout looming. 

I cannot help but dream however, of a solution that would either encourage maturity and good sportsmanship on the field, or financial progress in charitable work as an exchange for continued juvenile exhibitions. It might not stop the excessive celebration, but it would at least allow the NFL to celebrate charitably.

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