What is (and isn't) legal under NFL's new celebration rules

League will relax penalties for excessive celebrations (1:02)

Michele Steele speaks on Roger Goodell addressing the media and saying the league has decided to ease itself from on-field celebrations, but will still penalize any celebration that is deemed offensive. (1:02)

Our days of ridiculing the NFL for its stodgy and uptight response to harmless player celebrations are over.

For the most part.


It's almost definite.

OK, let's go with it.

The NFL announced Tuesday that it has relaxed its rules to allow for the kind of benign celebrations that entertain fans and allow players a sense of individuality and creativity. The decision was years in the making; as the first chart shows, touchdown celebration penalties have spiked by a factor of almost 10 since 2012. Player fines have also risen accordingly, as seen in the second chart. (The figures do not reflect possible reduction or reversal on appeal.)

Still, there is a fair amount of gray area within the new guidelines. Acts that are "spontaneous displays of emotion," in the words of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, will be allowed. But demonstrations that are deemed offensive, that delay the game, or are directed at opponents are still prohibited.

The informed guess here is that officials will be instructed to err on the side of fun (for once), unless and until the issue gets out of hand. How should NFL players handle it?

Let's take a closer look, with some help from the NFL's GIF-loaded announcement to fans.


Group celebrations

In an attempt to minimize the chances for a physical confrontation, the NFL long ago banned elaborate multi-player performances that became events unto themselves. Those of us with some gray in our hair remember the Washington Redskins' Fun Bunch. In this photo, we see an example of the St. Louis Rams' Bob and Weave, which debuted in 1999.

Going to the ground

Some players had gotten around this requirement in creative ways, none better than when retired defensive end Jared Allen kept his knee one inch above the ground during his signature lasso move. In this photo, you are reminded that Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb will be allowed to go to the ground for a snow angel. (Cobb wasn't penalized for it last season, either, as the NFL began backing away from the rule even then.)

Use the ball as a prop

This rule was responsible for so many of the most mystifying penalties we saw in recent years. Example: Redskins tight end Vernon Davis' penalty last season for using the football as a basketball and shooting a "jump shot" over the crossbar. Now we can go back to pretending the football is a baby and rocking it. Or, as then-Cleveland Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor tried last season, using it as "chalk" to evoke NBA star LeBron James' pregame routine.


Violent or offensive imagery

Players will still be penalized if they perform what can be perceived as a violent act, such as a throat slash or pretending to shoot a gun. The rule even extends to the use of an imaginary bow and arrow, as Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and New England Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks have done in the past.

Sexually suggestive acts

For the most part, we'll leave this one to your imagination. But one to keep in mind is the twerk dance performed by Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. Those moves are considered suggestive and thus will still be penalized if seen.