Some people think sports is all about winning, some think it’s all about having fun. But if you can have fun and win at the same time, isn’t that the ultimate goal? With that said, is it possible to just have good, clean fun without the bullying and taunting that seems to be so prevalent in sports (both adult and children’s’) these days?

We’ve all heard about the angry parents who taunt the referees at their kids’ sporting matches, sometimes going so far as resorting to violence. And as the athletes get older, taunting can get worse. At the very least it’s poor sportsmanship, and the fact that when adrenaline is flowing things can escalate quickly. So what part of taunting, if any, is acceptable in college and professional sports?

A seemingly innocent form of taunting, excessive celebrating, has been cracked down on and penalties can be enforced during college and professional football games. Touchdown dances, football players doing a flip after their success, jumping into the stands after a score; all of these are actionable offenses and sometimes can cause the team whose player committed these actions to lose the points scored before the excessive celebration took place.

The NCAA has a rule set in place if a college football player taunts another player where they get charged with a taunting penalty, or taunting foul. If a player commits a taunting penalty on a touchdown, the score is called back and a 15-yard penalty is enforced from the spot where the taunting began.

Surprisingly, the NFL is thinking about enacting the same type of penalty due to increasing incidents of taunting. This coming off-season for the NFL will be an important one where there will likely be a decision made that will recall touchdowns if an incident of taunting occurs. It will be interesting to see what exactly will be considered taunting and what will just be part of the game.

Taunting is really nothing new in sports, in fact several NFL players are known as much for their taunting of other players as they are for their talent, but it seems with increasing awareness of bullying in our culture, taunting in sports is coming under scrutiny more and more as well.

The sad part is, shouldn’t an athlete be allowed to be happy if they are doing well and helping their team win? Where do you draw the line on being able to be proud of yourself and your team and celebrating, over being over-confident and rubbing your success in someone else’s face? That is a fine line that needs to be agreed upon so every athlete will know exactly how much they are allowed to celebrate their success without going overboard and having points taken away from their team.

Some of this is pure common sense and maturity. However with player bonuses and playoff games hanging on each score, it must be difficult to contain your emotions while in the moment, one would think.

Trash talk between players on the field is a form of taunting that has most likely always happened. Cheerleaders trash talk other teams in the name of team spirit. Supporting one team can mean disparaging the other team in a spirited form of crowd cheers and jeers. Taunting isn’t just from the teams’ players, it really is part of sportsmanship.

In basketball, taunting is punished by a technical foul rather than a physical, personal foul. Both players and coaches can be assigned technical fouls. This allows the other team to shoot free throws, thereby gaining points from the other team’s disagreeable behavior. It’s not uncommon for players and coaches to get so worked up over these technical fouls and whatever the original argument was about that sometimes they are even ejected from the game.

Overall, taunting and sports go hand in hand. It’s up to the referees to decide what is most offensive and actionable, and what just regular sportsmanship is. The best bet is if you don’t want to cost your team hard-earned points, don’t taunt.

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