It's a common sight in professional sports today. After a routine play, a player will begin to celebrate wildly. In baseball, home run celebrations are commonplace. Many players have signature moves, such as the Bret Boone bat flip, the Sammy Sosa hop, or the now-defunct Barry Bonds spin. Soccer players take off their shirts, run around, and do all sorts of crazy things.
Announcers comment on these celebrations often. They tout the discipline and experience of such players as the now retired Barry Sanders, who simply handed the football to the referee after every touchdown. They invoke such hackneyed phrases as "Act as if you've been there before" and hope that players show the maturity to realize that they are simply doing their jobs; performing tasks that they are paid to do.
This taming of celebrations seems like a ridiculous concept to me. Players in professional sports are expected to help their teams win, but in a greater sense their job is to entertain. Their garish commemorations incite either cries of merriment or howls of anguish, depending on the allegiance of the onlooker.
Furthermore, America celebrates those who express themselves. Entertaining acts often overshadow actual performance. Known for his big mouth and showy celebrations, Jeremy Shockey has been an All-Pro tight end in both of his seasons in the NFL. During that time he has been hailed as the next great Giant, the savior of the Big Apple, the next Joe Namath. His stats over two pro seasons? He has averaged 61 receptions, 714 yards, and only two touchdowns per year. However, because he has shown an overactive mouth and wildly celebrates every first-down he earns, he has received his own celebration from the national press and advertising companies.
Players use celebrations to rile up the opposition as well. They celebrate to taunt; doing anything to throw the opposing players off their game and make them lose their concentration.
In addition to the First Amendment and entertainment arguments for celebration, one must remember the importance of advertising in the sports world. Players may even be encouraged to celebrate wildly by their agents in order to garner attention from the companies' advertising departments.
More composed players, those who, while dominating their sport, do not seem exciting enough, can even be penalized by their seeming maturity. Tim Duncan, nicknamed "the Big Stoic" by commentators, dominates his sport, having won two championships, often demonstrating perfect basketball fundamentals all the while. He has averaged a double-double per game over his career with 22.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game. With all this dominance, though, the ad money has not flowed as it rightly should. Instead, the flashy players with flashy games, such as Jason Richardson, Baron Davis, and Allen Iverson receive the sneaker deals. The last ad I saw Tim Duncan in was on the side of a McDonald's soft drink cup. Not on television, but on a cup.
I remember watching an ESPN commercial last year in which featured a professional athlete lounging at home. If it weren't for the San Diego Chargers helmet next to his Lazy-Boy and the use of inference on my part, I would have had no idea who it was. That player was LaDainian Tomlinson, arguably the greatest running back in the NFL, yet I could not recognize him.
Professional football may be the sport most often noted for its unnecessary celebrations. Cornerbacks celebrate routine tackles, wide receivers wildly pronounce their first down catches with outrageous gestures. Although the NFL has attempted to quell such incredible celebrations with a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration and fines for such actions, players continue to rejoice in extraordinary manners. These penalties are regarded as slaps on the wrist, only a charge of $5,000 to $15,000 a year, hardly worth the effort of writing the check to the league.
Who can blame football players for trying to go out and get the money? For the nation's new favorite sport, football players are paid relatively little, especially when compared to baseball and basketball players. Even players in the now locked-out NHL earn a greater average salary than the popular NFL. The money is certainly out there. When one considers the lasting physical pain and disfiguration in those who "enjoy" long football careers, their pay seems diminutive in the realm of professional sports. Moreover, football players are constrained to wearing helmets, limiting their face recognition in ways that baseball and basketball players are not. All these factors contribute to more extravagant celebration, in hopes that one outburst will garner a lucrative advertising contract.
Several years ago, former Forty-Niners wide-out Terrell Owens would have a new celebration gimmick for every touchdown he scored. In his case, excessive celebration led directly to more advertising attention. One game, after scoring a touchdown, he pulled a marker out of his sock and signed the football, handing it to a fan. Immediately afterward, Sharpie debuted a commercial (rare for Sharpie) featuring Terrell Owens. To halt the direct connection between celebrations and advertising contracts, the NFL has taken harsh action against celebrations including consumer products.
The personalities of the players should be allowed to shine. Celebrations, including the NFL-banned team celebrations, should not be controlled in the manner they are now. Fans come to see not only the game, but the personalities of their favorite players. The integrity of the game will certainly not be stained by a St. Louis Rams bob-and-weave after a touchdown. No one will think the players amateurish. Instead, it will show players enjoying a game that should be enjoyed. Let the players enjoy themselves on the field so the fans can enjoy the game from home.