NFL Touchdown Celebrations: Freedom of Expression?

December 1, 2011


In today’s society, there is no doubt that the NFL is at the top of the list when it comes to phenomenons in popular culture.  The league is thriving with some of the best action it has ever seen, thanks in part to the incredible talent and charismatic personalities of its players.  But just how much freedom do these athletes have?  There are many reasons why the NFL had been referred to as the “No Fun League” by fans across the country.  Perhaps no debate on this is more prevalent than that of end zone celebrations.  The topic has been in the news for years now, as superstars like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco became just as famous for their celebrations as their play on the field.  In 2004, as a response to this sensation, the NFL modified its rules to penalize players for excessive celebration.

This past weekend, Stevie Johnson, wide receiver on the Buffalo Bills, made headlines for his celebration, which mocked Plaxico Burress, who was playing on the opposing side of the field.  In 2008, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg, and ended up spending 22 months in a New York state prison.  Johnson has been under fire all week due to the incident, and was even fined $10,000 by the NFL.  After the game, Johnson called Burress to apologize, and has been openly apologetic, admitting he made a mistake.  This issue got me thinking about celebrations in the NFL as a whole, and whether or not the NFL’s policy is fair.

The NFL has faced a lot of backlash since instituting its policy to ban excessive celebrations.  Eric Oriz, of the New England Sports Network, wrote that “The excessive celebration penalty is un-American. What’s next? No high fives?” (NESN, 2010).  I agree with Ortiz, and believe that the NFL has become too strict on its players.  The league is full of exciting athletes and these guys love what they do and take a lot of pride in it.  As long as a celebration is harmless, I would like to see it allowed without penalty.  Scoring a touchdown in an NFL game is a huge deal, and if a player wants to celebrate that achievement, then he should be allowed to do so.  In addition, most fans love the entertainment and it helps create a buzz and make the game more exciting.

However, one thing to note is that the NFL has recently tried to allow some room for celebration.  Victor Cruz of the New York Giants has become known for doing a salsa dance every time he gets in the end zone.  Cruz has been doing this dance without penalty, and as a Giants fan I know that the crowd loves to see it.  But once a player starts dancing for more than a few seconds, or does something more unique than a dance, a flag is almost certain to come flying in from the officials.

After further thought about this issue, I started to wonder how John Stuart Mill would react to the NFL’s treatment of touchdown celebrations.  Mill was all about allowing people the freedom of expression, and said that suppressing people from doing so could prevent us from learning the full truth about things.  While there is no truth to be learned from letting Chad Ochocinco dance in the end zone, I think that Mill would still believe that he has the right to express his feelings and emotions.  Looking specifically at Stevie Johnson’s case, I also think that Mill would have a problem with the fine.  Johnson was simply re-enacting Burress’ incident and there is really no harm in that.  The celebration will go down as one of the funniest, and most creative of all-time.  As a fan, it was very entertaining to watch and I am glad that I got to see it.  Getting back to the “truth” that Mill is searching for, he might argue that the truth here is that Plaxico Burress messed up three years ago and Stevie Johnson has every right to express his opinions about what happened.

On the other hand, the first problem that I do have with Johnson’s celebration is that he did openly mock a colleague, and NFL fraternity brother.  In that sense some may say it is distasteful, and I cannot disagree with them.  Secondly, the reason why I can understand the NFL’s fining of Johnson is because the celebration involved the pretend use of a gun.  There is no place in the NFL to even joke around about that, as it is obviously a very serious matter.

Overall, like Johnson, I believe that what Burress did three years ago was extremely stupid, and that we both have a right to express that to whomever we want.  However, his use of a fake gun on an NFL field did cross the line and deserved some repercussions.  In general though, the NFL is still coming down too harsh on players who are just trying to have some fun out there and be themselves.

What do you think? Did Stevie Johnson cross the line? Is the NFL too harsh on its players or have they found the right balance between acceptable and inacceptable celebrations? How would Mill feel about the NFL’s treatment of celebrations in general?



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8 Comments on “NFL Touchdown Celebrations: Freedom of Expression?”

  1. Jason Cohen Says:

    Well, you beat me to it. I was literally about to post this and take a similar stance. However, I think its crucial to note that celebrations in the NFL are way over the top, yet apart of the game. Lets be real for a moment, Chad Ochocinco putting the football with a pileon is classic. And who can forget TO’s Popcorn celebration. These are highlights that will forever be remembered in the history of the NFL. However, it is important to note that the NFL does have the right to eliminate the excessive nature of some of these celebrations.

    Stevie Johnson did cross the line with the Plaxico Burress celebration. I think he should be fined for that. It is unnecesary to attack a player and their personal issues. These celebrations are meant to be all in good fun and entertain the fans.

  2. acicurel Says:

    I think that sometimes the NFL has lived up to its name of being the “No Fun League.” Sometimes their violations and fines are ridiculous. This, however, is not the case. Touchdown celebrations are a fun part of the game and allow the players to show their fun side. That being said, players need to represent the NFL, their teams, and themselves as model citizens at all times. Obviously, the Plaxico Burress issue is an embarrassment to himself and the league. The players should treat it as such and not make light of the situation.

  3. alexwillard Says:

    I think Mill’s would be fine with touchdown celebrations. It is merely an expression of emotions and mostly positive ones at that. While it is not trying to spread ideals and is “important” expression, it is still expression none the less and Mill’s would like it. Was Stevie Johnson’s celebration too much? No I don’t believe so, and I truly believe that he did not violate the harm principle, for the only thing that could have been potentially harmed would be Plaxico’s pride.
    To answer your question I believe that the NFL is not very harsh on its players in comparison to other programs. People on national television such as news anchors, cannot even mutter a curse word much less could they do a celebration dance after every broadcast. So I believe the NFL allows there players a lot of freedom, and we are only drawn to the moments that seem to stray from their normal tendencies such as the Stevie Johnson incident.

  4. Austin Telling Says:

    I don’t think Mill would have had much to say regarding the NFL’s treatment of the celebrations, since I think Mill was more concerned about how governments treat freedom of expression. I think he would feel that the NFL could do whatever they wanted since they are a private organization.

    I would presume however that if it were Commissioner Mill instead of Goodell, that he wouldn’t try to prevent/punish these celebrations.

    The NFL is known to be very fine happy, and it seems to me that their attempts to protect their image as a league has actually done the opposite, and in the minds of many people the NFL has become a joke.

    If the NFL was smart, they’d ease up a bit at the risk of alienating some of their fanbase.

  5. mturner1013 Says:

    I think that Johnson did cross the line in this case, and I think that Mill would agree with me. Normal touchdown celebrations like the ones that made Ocho Cinco and TO were completely harmless and very funny. They did not hurt anyone, or make fun of anyone. They were simple dances, or stunts (popcorn in the face, cell phone in the end zone) but all of them caused no one harm, and did not ridicule anybody. They were an entertainment to all of the fans, and that is what the NFL is, it is entertainment for the people. In Johnson’s case however, he was not doing a harmless dance or stunt. He was directly making fun of another player for an event that happened a few years ago. Burress now had to re-live the event, and deal with all of the media again. He is going to see replays of the celebration on espn, and listen to the media talk about it for weeks to come. Johnson’s touchdown celebration inflicted emotional harm on Burress, and because of that I think that Mill would agree with me, and say that Johnson crossed the line.

  6. emmaschneider11 Says:

    I agree that the NFL is too harsh in most situations and that celebrations are harmless and entertaining. I am not sure why the NFL is so harsh about end zone celebrations because they seem to be appreciated by the fans. By censoring athletes so intensely the NFL is creating negative press for themselves.

    I agree that Mill would support athlete’s rights to modest touchdown celebrations. The athletes are generally doing something entirely harmless to express their emotions and make them feel even better about scoring. It doesn’t appear that most of the celebrations are hurting anyone at all. Not allowing these celebrations shows how overprotective the NFL is and it seems that they are overextending their power. The payers have a right to harmless expressions of opinion.

    However, I feel that Johnson crossed the line with his celebration in the end zone. Yes it was clever and amusing, but it was also damaging to Burruss’ image. I feel that punishment in this case was acceptable, but in general players should have more freedom with their celebrations.

  7. jrsmyth177 Says:

    If Mill were asked about this, I think he would say that the NFL is denying freedom of expression. Mill would agree that we should not deny any sort of expression, even if it is merely a touchdown dance. If we were to deny this freedom of expression we would be robbing the crowd from having a good time/laugh. He probably would not agree with the NFL rules, but than again he lived in a different era and his philosophy is based on politics.

    I think that NFL celebrations are great. They allow the fans, who are paying a lot of money, to have a good time. Chad Ochocinco had some hilarious touchdown celebrations that bring the fun of the game into the picture. Athletes like to have fun and fans love to see athletes express their emotions. This is partially why I do not like the NFL, because they are too serious. I do not think Stevie Johnson went too far. It is just a celebration and if it really hurt Plaxico then he should respond by getting back at Johnson by scoring a touchdown. These are grown men for crying out loud I do not think their feelings are going to get hurt from a little celebration. Let the players have some fun and let the fans enjoy the game experience even more.

  8. lnk72792 Says:

    I definitely believe that Johnson crossed the line with his actions. Plaxico’s actions resulted in him going to prison, and gave a bad reputation for the NFL. For a player to make fun of him and mimic his actions in a joking manner is definitely not appropriate. I understand that it could be said that it is infringing on his freedom of expression, but it really isn’t. There are rules in place in the NFL that don’t allow this. If you are a participant in the NFL, and all players are, you are abiding by these rules in place. And by breaking these rules, Johnson should have gotten penalized, like he did. I think Victor Cruz’s dance is fine, it doesn’t cross the boundary. But there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

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