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Taunting rule puts all player post-play interactions at risk of a foul

Rodney Harrison runs through who understood the assignment and who fell short during a busy Week 2 around the NFL.

Those who are policing the no-fun police are up in arms about the enhanced application of the taunting rule. It’s a social-media-friendly take, conducive to retweets and likes from those who perpetually pitch their tents in the superficial.

It ignores the fact that it’s not a new rule. And that it doesn’t prevent celebrations. It simply prohibits celebrating or demonstrating in the face of an opponent.

That said, there’s an important flaw in the process. Sometimes, a player gets in an opponent’s face for a reason other than to taunt him. Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, for example, confronted an opponent on Sunday in order to take issue with a helmet to Allen’s earhole. Allen wasn’t taunting, in any way. But it looked like taunting, so he got flagged.

Similarly, a pair of players could be exchanging genuine pleasantries after a big catch or a good tackle or whatever. The interaction could be misinterpreted as taunting.

The only way to prevent that erroneous impression is to simply get up and go back to the huddle, directing nothing at all to an opponent, ever. Maybe that’s what the NFL wants. However, some of the interactions that may look like taunting simply aren’t.

For those who are generally spouting off about the taunting rule, the better approach would be to understand what it is and what it isn’t, and to focus the NFL’s attention not on some generalized Twitter assault on the league being stodgy but on the fact that players can indeed be talking to each other without one taunting the other.

If the league can’t or won’t try to distinguish the situations of taunting from those of something other than taunting, that’s when the league needs to take a closer look at the rule -- especially when players are simply talking to each other under the influence of the adrenaline that naturally flows in those moments.