Offensive language a focus for NFL officials in 2014

Posted Aug 1, 2014

The NFL has issued a variety of new rules and points of emphasis for the 2014 season, and offensive or derogatory language used by players and coaches will not be tolerated.

NFL players and coaches have always needed to watch what they say on the field during games, as they faced the risk of an unsportsmanlike penalty if the language was deemed offensive or derogatory. But in year’s past, officials typically gave them a warning.

This year, that will no longer be the case.

Refs (Photo: Detroit Lions)

A crew of NFL officials joined the Detroit Lions for a portion of training camp, and on Friday, the crew, led by head referee Walt Coleman, outlined some of the new rule changes that will be enforced this season.

A particularly interesting point of emphasis for the league relates to what a player or coach can or can’t say during a game. According to the NFL, under the unsportsmanlike conduct section, prohibited acts include: using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the league. In addition, using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams will not be tolerated, and the aforementioned acts will result in a 15-yard penalty.

This rule isn’t new. However, officials usually have given players and coaches a warning. In other words, the officials typically granted second chances.

This year, they will no longer be so lenient.

“That’s the way we used to do it,” said Coleman, who is entering his 26th season as an NFL official. “They (the league) told us now that they (players and coaches) don’t get a warning, they don’t get a break.

“Coaches and players are not going to have has much leeway with us as what we might have given them in the past.”

It is important to note that there is no hard-and-fast rule as to what defines offensive or derogatory language. There are no code words and there are no automatic triggers. Instead, it’s up the discretion of the individual official.

“It’s more judgment on our part,” Coleman said. “There is no one word that is worse than the other. It’s our discretion based on what we see, what we hear. It’s all up to us. 

“You just have to use your common sense and your judgment to try and determine whether it’s something you should penalize them on.”

The NFL wants to protect its image and the league doesn’t want its viewers watching or hearing unnecessary altercations.

“The whole issue is all about perception and the people who are watching our games and the kids who are watching the games and they see it go on at our level and they think, well that’s right,” Coleman said. “Obviously it’s a big issue that the NFL is trying to have some impact on because there are so many people watching the games.”

Coleman says he is confident that players and coaches will adhere to the change with relative ease.

“I’m convinced because of the focus and the conversation that’s been going on, we are going to see a whole lot less issues in that regard than what we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “When the league focuses on something, everybody gets the message that we need to make sure that that kind of stuff is not going on. So they quit doing it.”

Other notable league-wide changes include:

-- The game clock will continue to run after a quarterback sack outside two minutes of either half.

-- Offensive and defensive lineman will no longer be able to put their hands on an opponent’s helmet or facemask in order to gain an advantage. In year’s past, this would not be a penalty if the athlete quickly removed his hand from the head area. Now, any such contact will result in a flag.

-- Blockers will no longer be allowed to roll up on the side of the legs of a defender. This particular rule was created in an attempt to increase player safety.

-- Referees will now be able to consult with senior officials in a New York office during replay reviews, and NFL crews will each have an earpiece and microphone to communicate with each other on the field.

-- Any celebration involving any part of the goalpost will result in an instant unsportsmanlike penalty. So, don’t use the goalpost as a prop for a touchdown celebration.