Sadly, there is crying in football

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the most aggravating sights during an NFL game might be coming to an end.

Not this season, but maybe soon. I have my fingers crossed.

A point of emphasis among officials in 2010 will be hysterical players who beg for flags. You know who I'm talking about, those pantomiming polemicists who reach into their imaginary back pockets and launch an imaginary flag into the air -- usually over an imaginary pass-interference penalty.

A quartet of officials met with New England Patriots reporters Monday to discuss new rules and points of emphasis for the upcoming season. They'll also preside over a few Patriots practices this week to help coaches and players better understand the changes.

We know all about the new overtime system for the playoffs and the umpire being moved from the defensive side to the offensive side of the ball. Tweaks have been made to broaden protection for defenseless players and a whistle being blown the moment a ball carrier's helmet comes off.

But what stood out to me during the presentation were sportsmanship issues the league will concentrate on.

The main examples given were abusive language or gestures such as getting in an opponent's face after making a big play (a 15-yard penalty) and whining to officials for a penalty flag (not a penalty -- yet).

"There has been an increasing number of players gesturing for fouls after a play," said the voiceover on the NFL-produced instructional video. "While these actions are not illegal, they tend to incite the crowd and can negatively affect the integrity of the game.

"Asking an official why a foul was not called is acceptable, but exaggerated gestures should not be a part of our game."

Back judge Billy Smith, who conducted a Q&A with reporters after the video, explained the league will be collecting data on wailing players with the possibility of making such actions a penalty next season.

"The competition committee will revisit in the offseason next year as to whether or not they will make it a foul," Smith said.

"It's showing up the officials. It's a taunting act."

Head linesman Phil McKinnely elaborated on highlighting abusive language or gestures from one player to another.

"Football's an emotional game," said McKinnely, a former Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears offensive lineman. "A guy lays a good, solid hit, that's OK. You celebrate with your teammates. But you don't get in a guy's face. You don't show him up. That's a taunt."