The NFL recently made waves with its plan to make the elimination of taunting a point of emphasis (again) for the 2021 season. The elimination of fighting during joint practices does not occupy a similar spot on the league’s radar screen.
In 2015, the league explained to PFT that it defers to the clubs on matters of fights during practice, even when those fights occur during practices involving multiple teams. If a fight occurs off the football field, however, it would fall under the Personal Conduct Policy.
Since Thursday, PFT has sent multiple emails to the league office seeking confirmation of that approach, in the wake of the rash of fights during joint practice over the past couple of weeks. The NFL has not responded.
The inconsistency is obvious. The league mandates respect for the opponent during games. So why not mandate respect for the opponent during practices? Indeed, to the extent that the league penalizes taunting in order to prevent a fight, it’s odd to take no action when a fight happens.
On Thursday, Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown removed the helmet of Titans cornerback Chris Jackson and then punched him in the face. Bucs coach Bruce Arians said after the practice session that he’d be disciplining none of his players who got into practice skirmishes.
If the teams involved won’t do anything, then maybe the league should.
It’s impossible to reconcile the newfound obsession with eliminating taunting with the persistent nonchalance regarding practice fights. Although those moments don’t get the same exposure as a nationally-televised primetime game, the images flood social media. If they trigger no consequences, they’ll keep happening.
The fact that no one is disciplining players who fight during joint practices suggests that the people involved don’t care. Not the teams, not the league. However, if the league claims to care about taunting, shouldn’t it care about fighting?