You're under center, surveying the defense. State final game, senior year, two minutes left. You're down by four and need a huge play. You take the snap and roll left. The routes are breaking down and the tight end is covered. You tuck the ball and head up field. You break one tackle, juke right to avoid the safety and you're home free. Across midfield, with nothing but green turf in front of you. All the hard work and sacrifice paid off. Only 20 yards to go to history. You feel like celebrating. With a fist pump to the sky you cross the end zone. State champions...
Now what if I told you a referee just threw a flag on the play. Not for holding or clipping, but for unsportsmanlike conduct - on you. You see, the ref will claim, raising your fist before you crossed into the end zone is against the rules. The touchdown is negated because of your celebration, your "taunting." With the penalty, your team is backed up and is intercepted on the next play. Second place. Season over. Forgotten in the history books....
This injustice actually happened to Cathedral High (Mass.) during the state's Division 4A Super Bowl last week. Quarterback Matthew Owens' 56-yard touchdown run was nullified due to an unsportsmanlike taunting penalty for raising his left arm, for no more than a second, while on his way to scoring the go-ahead touchdown. Cathedral High didn't win the title. A referee made sure of that.
Rules are important, especially in sports, especially in state title games. Letting an infraction slip by that determines the game is unacceptable. If someone pushes a would-be tackler in the back on a touchdown run, it should be called back. If a face mask is grabbed, it should be enforced.
When athletic associations put in taunting rules, the overall message was in the right place. Avoid antagonizing opponents and demonstrate sportsmanship at all times -- important aspects in the integrity of high school athletics.
However, this instance could hardly be considered taunting. It's not like this player was turned around, goose-stepping backwards, wagging the ball in the face of a defender just out of reach. He was sprinting towards the end zone, with no one around he raised his arm briefly. As a referee, how are you so concerned with enforcing this rule that you're blinded by the situation?
Of course there's much outrage by the school, fans, parents, media, anyone who has actually seen the footage. Bay Hills would end up winning the game and its athletic director told The Boston Globe the referee made "a great call, the right call." He continued, "We try and play by the rules, and the rules are 'no celebrating.'
Perhaps that particular rule needs to be re-examined. Maybe the referee needs to have his head examined. Certainly his motives should be called into question. This isn't meant to be an anti-referee take, they try their best, simply a call for common sense.
A rule is a rule but when a rule becomes as subjective as taunting, it invites questionable calls and, in this case, state championships can be altered. When did putting your hand in the air on a football field become a bad thing? When did celebrating achievement become negative? When a referee decides so.