The No Fun League

Updated: September 9, 2013

by Kendrick Marshall

The National Football League has put players on notice this week that they are cracking down on any expression of blackness during games this year.

Multiple reports indicate league officials are warning players that they plan to enforce unsportsmanlike conduct penalties already detailed in the pages of the NFL rule book.

Here is a list of the prohibited post play activities.

sack dances; home run swing; incredible hulk; spiking the ball; spinning the ball; throwing or shoving the ball; pointing; pointing the ball; verbal taunting; military salute; standing over an opponent (prolonged and with provocation); or dancing.

While the league attempts to minimize the potential 15-yard penalties by explaining the infractions will not be enforced following touchdowns (only if the players are not taunting), it is clear that once again black expression is being subject to scrutiny by an entity run by wealthy white men.

It is no secret that the majority of the players who engage in such revelries just so happen to be African-American, who make up at 67 percent of league rosters, according to league data.

Homer Jones, a black wide receiver who played with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns in the 1960s and 1970s, was credited as the first player to spike the ball in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. This was an act not seen before in a pro game where players were expected to go about their business without much fanfare.

Jones’ act later led to other self-congratulatory antics of individuals and groups of players such as ”The Fun Bunch” Washington Redskins, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Elmo Wright (credited with being the first to dance after a touchdown) and Deion Sanders whom made the celebration of the touchdown more entertaining than the six-point achievement itself.

As pro sports, especially the NFL, became more commercialized, athletes saw fit to break themselves away from the rigid, militaristic-style of the sport and be more expressive to the dismay of many white fans and media were only accustomed to black male submission.

African-American players engaging in this form of expression were seen as a rebellion to the establishment who controlled every aspect of their professional lives.

It is not hard to find countless opponents to the perceived narcissistic behavior between the white lines that lead to complaints that the average fan can no longer relate culturally to the modern athlete.

There is a notion that Terrell Owens autographing a football, Chad Johnson wearing a Hall of Fame jacket, or Cam Newton’s Superman pose after scoring ruins the sport and negatively impacts youths as if self-expression is somehow a promotion of recreational drug use.

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Gary Peterson chimes in;

Football games, it seems, pause after every play for some player or another to stomp around, shake or shimmy after making a tackle, a first down or some other fundamentally anonymous play. What’s the big deal?

African-American athletes who play the game without incident are seemingly over praised for depressing the urge to follow the celebratory examples of their ebullient peers.

Barry Sanders, the quiet African-American Hall of Fame rusher, was routinely lauded for just handing the football to the referees after scoring during his career. It was selfless. He reflected white middle-class American ideals. Sanders was playing the game “the right way,” according to the press. This was a black man who wasn’t a threat, which made it so much easier for journalists to rally around his docile end zone gesture.

This is a perfect example of the ”white is right” mentality, however.

Longtime NFL advisor and sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards explained how race and game day celebrations are married.

“You have a situation where a black individual has paid the price and has achieved success. But when that success is achieved, they find that the vehicles of expressing how they feel about that are insufficient, and so they begin to innovate. And so when you see this continual creativity coming from black athletes — the high fives, spiking the ball, dancing in the end zone — what you are witnessing is the creation of a vehicle to express that joy for which there is no mainstream language.”

Cracking down on celebrations is no different than state legislators attempting to criminalize sagging jeans, both synonymous with black culture.

Black expression — whether on the gridiron or on the street — is deemed a threat that must be eliminated to prevent its influence on the majority population.

In a way, the NFL is marginalizing the black athlete by threatening to increase the rate of flags for outbursts of emotion in a game fueled by emotion.

It also feeds into the narrative that black athletes are inherently detached, selfish, and all too concerned about style over the substance that is winning within a team structure.

This is another example of how there is a constant need to control blackness and black behavior. Sadly, the NFL will not face a penalty for it.

Kendrick Marshall is a reporter for the Tulsa World covering crime and breaking news. In addition, Marshall has been a contributor for TSPN Sports, Bleacher Report, Chicago Defender, HBCU Digest, HBCU Fan Nation, Black College Wire, and Mississippi Link. He is a graduate of Jackson State University. You can follow Kendrick on Twitter @KD_Marshall.

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