The National Football League, inclusive of its coaches, players, front office personnel, and owners, sets the standard on sportsmanship. The NFL’s obligation to fans and players of all ages is to establish, teach, monitor, and maintain the standards for sportsmanship because of our unique leadership role in society, and the trust and responsibility that comes with that role. To have respect, resiliency, commitment to team, and integrity, sportsmanship must be present.
After emphasizing the prohibition on fighting in 2015, there were few out-of-control, multiple-player fights. However, other data demonstrates that true sportsmanship was not at an acceptable level. There were 70 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in 2016, down five from 2015, and compared to an average of 60.3 since 2013. Taunting penalties increased to 37 in 2016 from a three-year low of 29 in 2015. Since 2013, we have had an average of 34.3. Tauntings, ejections, inappropriate celebrations, and abuses of officials, either verbally or physically, have no place in our sport at any level. Thus, sportsmanship will continue to be a point of emphasis throughout our League. The Competition Committee believes that we can always be better, and we will continue to seek to improve sportsmanship. We have made many gains as players continue to learn and adjust at the highest level of competition.
Additionally, we strongly discourage derogatory or threatening statements over social media by players directed at other players, pregame tactics attempting to intimidate an opponent or incite conflict, and acts during the game, either on the field of play or in the bench area, that are contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. All of these, regardless of the context, have no place in our game.
Criticism of officiating has always been considered conduct detrimental to the League. This past season, we saw an increase in players publicly criticizing officials, in some instances, making personal attacks on individual officials during postgame press conferences. Such criticism is unacceptable in any forum, and calls into question the integrity of, or public confidence in, our game.
The Committee seeks to encourage passionate, competitive play – but not at the expense of exposing players to unnecessary risk and actions that fall below the standards of behavior everyone expects from the NFL. The Committee feels it is necessary to eliminate unacceptable behavior and assist in establishing a standard that sets a good example for young athletes, and portrays the NFL and NFL players in a way that preserves and builds public respect and fan support for the game. Our recommendations do not apply solely to players. As we have seen, coaches and other team personnel are capable of conduct that can fall below the standards we expect.
As in the past, specific acts that are listed in the playing rules and/or specific incidents that occurred during last season will be put on video and shown to players, coaches, and officials before the start of the 2017 season. It is the Committee’s position that players, coaches, game officials, media, and fans will be thoroughly educated about the intents and ramifications of these points of emphasis.