NFL players sound off as controversial taunting penalties pile up: ‘You don’t know if you can be happy’

The NFL decided to make taunting calls a point of emphasis for the 2021 NFL season. The decision to do so has caused some waves already just two weeks into the campaign, as expected.

There were several questionable taunting penalties across the league in Week 2 of the season. The calls drew the ire of players, coaches and fans alike though most didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the game.

Part of the issue with the penalties was that players and coaches wanted know why each penalty was called. The officials didn’t elaborate much about what is and isn’t acceptable on the field, so that led to some frustration.

Here are some of the notable taunting calls and reactions to them from the NFL’s Week 2 games.

Tashaun Gipson taunting call

Gipson was whistled for one of the first taunting penalties of the day in the Bears’ win over the Bengals. The Bears safety clapped in the face of Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase after a pass breakup on the Bengals’ first drive of the game. Gipson was whistled for the 15-yard penalty and that kept the Bengals offense on the field, though they failed to score.

After the game, Gipson said that the officials “didn’t really explain” why he was penalized on the play and voiced that he wasn’t a fan of the rule.

“I wasn’t really saying much,” Gipson said. “I just clapped because it was a huge play on third down, pumping up my guys, and that is the type of energy that you are playing with these guys. I don’t want to be out there if I can’t be happy for my guys when they are making big plays. That’s what this game is about man. It’s just adrenaline.”

Gipson still acknowledged his remorse for committing the penalty even though he didn’t like the call.

“It was costly, man, and that’s something I just can’t do, put our team in that third down, it’s hard to get off the field,” Gipson said to reporters. “I apologized to them and that’s uncharacteristic of me, but you know, that rule is a fine line right now. You don’t know if you can be happy or if you can — you know, I don’t want to go into detail about it man, but anytime our guys make a play, man, I am going to be the first one to congratulate them and be happy.”

Jordan Akins taunting penalty

Akins caught the first completion of Davis Mills’ career on Sunday against the Browns. The Texans tight end proceeded to spin the ball on the ground after making the catch, an act that has been commonplace in the NFL for decades.

He was flagged for taunting, as he evidently spun the ball too close to the face of the Browns’ defender.

Texans coach David Culley didn’t seem thrilled with the call and after the game. He couldn’t get an explanation about why the penalty was called, much like Gipson.

“They called it taunting. They said that was taunting,” Culley said with a a shrug. “No more explanation other than it was taunting. And taunting is a big emphasis this year. It has been and obviously we found out today how big it is.”

Levi Wallace taunting call

Wallace had a nice pass breakup in the Bills-Dolphins game. The Buffalo cornerback celebrated the play right over the Dolphins’ defender’s head and appeared to say something to him while walking away. That drew the flag from the officials.

Wallace ended up having the last laugh. He jumped a Jacoby Brissett interception just one play later. 

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DJ Reed taunting penalty

The Seahawks had a seven-point lead on the Titans when cornerback DJ Reed broke up a pass intended for Julio Jones. The play by Reed prevented a touchdown, and he was understandably excited after the play.

Reed celebrated by flexing in the direction of Jones. The referees decided that fit the definition of taunting.

The Titans ultimately failed to convert on fourth down later in the drive, but the call wasn’t well received by the Seahawks, nonetheless.

Jared Cook taunting call

Cook scored what appeared to be a go-ahead touchdown for the Chargers. He celebrated his score by spinning the ball on the ground in front of the Dallas defender and making a “Feed Zeke” type motion in front of him. That drew a flag.

However, the penalty proved inconsequential. The Chargers had been whistled for an illegal shift on the same play. The Cowboys accepted that penalty to render the touchdown moot. Dallas couldn’t accept the taunting penalty since it occurred after Cook’s touchdown. Accepting it would have allowed the touchdown to stand.

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