Fighting against the NFL’s tyrannical celebration rules was once a pastime of former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson. From his legendary Riverdance, to giving the football CPR, to putting the football, to proposing to a cheerleader, Johnson was the best at finding new, innovative ways to celebrate his on-field achievements. Unfortunately, the NFL didn’t take kindly to bombastic celebrations and was regularly at odds with the charismatic receiver.
Fast forward a decade, and the NFL is loosening its restrictions on celebrations. In doing so, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to 80 former and current players and coaches, one of whom was Johnson. And, his response was more conservative than you might expect.
"I said there's a fine line and you have to find a way to find the balance and be able to let the players have fun and be themselves,” Johnson said in a guest appearance on the "B-More Opinionated!" podcast. “Without losing the integrity of the game, as well."
Although many fans loved Johnson’s comical antics during his playing career, there are those who believed Johnson and players like him were a threat to the integrity of the game. However, as time has progressed, the NFL has started to see the benefit of allowing players to project their personality. In the age of social media, it is so easy for players to put black marks on the NFL by acting out. Counter balancing that with some carefree endzone dancing could be exactly the kind of look the NFL needs, as long as they don’t let it go too far.
"I had talked to Roger a couple of times at length, maybe two or three times before the rule change came out," Johnson said. "He asked my advice on what he could do to be able to loosen the reins on the celebration rule but, at the same time, maintain the respect of the game.”
The integrity of the game is a key part of the anti-celebration argument and the perspective the NFL administration has held to for so long.
"Listen, if it was a team game, which it is, because there are 11 people on the field, then all 11 players should be paid equally the same," Johnson said.
However, all 11 players are not paid equally. Why? Because certain players affect the game more than others. And, while team chemistry is certainly not an aspect you can ignore, some players stick out more than others and draw significantly more attention. Why would the NFL want to stifle players who could potentially make the NFL more enjoyable for fans to watch than it already is? The league has picked up the No Fun League stigma for a reason, and it seems like the league is trying to change that with this new rule.
Johnson said there are some who believe celebrations are "not a very good example for young people," and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is one of those people. While it’s possible to understand where he is coming from, having spent a significant portion of his career dealing with a player like Johnson who often had more than his fair share of fun, Lewis’ mindset is no longer the general opinion of the NFL and its fans.