Best/Worst: A Salute to the Dumbest Penalty in Sports

What was the best in sports this week? What was the worst?

It makes sense to have the excessive celebration penalty in the rulebook. I understand why it’s there. I get it. Officials need some kind of option if a player goes nuts and stops the game for 90 seconds. Just the threat of a celebration penalty helps keep games from getting out of control every play. But while the threat doesn’t work if refs never call it, actually calling these penalties in meaningful games is more ridiculous than any celebration could be.

This week gave us two reminders of the stupidity here. First came Monday Night Football, when the officials flagged Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah after he dropped to his knees in prayer in the end zone.

Abdullah is Muslim, so the penalty was considered potentially discriminatory when it happened. The NFL later apologized, but let’s not forget just how stupid it is to penalize anyone for sliding on his knees through the end zone. He didn’t have to be praying to make that flag horrible. He wasn’t using ridiculous props, or delaying the game, or anything. “Going to his knees” is why he was flagged, which makes no sense. (And even after the NFL’s apology, the official’s call was graded as correct.)

Then came Thursday night.

With Arizona and Oregon tied late in the fourth quarter of a game that had been going back and forth all second half, the Ducks sacked the Wildcats to force a field goal attempt and get the ball back for a final possession.

But wait.


That celebration from Tony Washington was flagged for unsporstmanlike conduct, allowing Arizona to (a) get a first down, (b) milk more time off the clock, and (c) score what turned into the game-winning touchdown to upset the no. 2 team in the country.

This made Washington the goat of the loss, it put an asterisk next to what should have been a killer upset, and even Arizona fans thought it was bullshit. Nobody ever likes the celebration penalty. Players, coaches, broadcasters. Nobody. In the fourth quarter of a tie game, you should have to go full Rod Tidwell to get flagged for 15 yards. After last night, I finally understand what college football people mean when they make all of those jokes about Pac-12 refs.

That gets to the larger point: We can’t trust officials to not take those celebration rules and enforce them in the dumbest way possible. In college, in the pros — it makes no difference. Officials will always call awful celebration penalties, and best-case scenario it’ll be embarrassing; in the worst-case scenario, it’ll change games. Please just ban these penalties altogether. Everyone will survive.

And you know what? I miss the days when Joe Horn’s cell phone was the biggest controversy in football. It was a better time.

Elsewhere this week …


Michigan Football. You wouldn’t think things could get any worse after back-to-back home losses to Utah (3-point underdogs) and Minnesota (10-point underdogs), but they sure did! After Brady Hoke sent a clearly concussed Shane Morris back into the game, there was widespread outrage, including calls for Hoke’s and athletic director Dave Brandon’s jobs. The incident triggered campus protests, and the Michigan president apologized to everyone on behalf of his football program. Not a great week for Michigan Men.

If you’re one of the people who thinks this wouldn’t have been nearly as big of a deal if Hoke were winning, that’s definitely true, but not for the reasons you think. If Michigan were winning this year, Hoke would have plenty of job security, and he’d have been in perfect position Monday to just admit he made a huge mistake, promise to be better, etc. That would have been the end of the story.

Instead, we got ham-fisted denials from everyone involved with the program and a 1 a.m. press release to finally admit the mistake. It all just kept the story going, making Michigan look worse. Finally, this note came in the middle of everything:

That’s just cruel. Michigan fans have suffered enough this year. Show some humanity.

Thursday Night Football. The Thursday-night game will make it into the worst section of this column every single week. Also:

[Shakes fist at the sky.]


Horrible NFL News. It’s getting to the point where in any given week, you can find at least two or three awful stories that make you question how much longer you can watch football. This week: Jovan Belcher’s brain was (predictably) diagnosed with CTE, and 76 of 79 players examined in Boston University’s NFL brain study were found to have CTE as well. That second study is a little misleading because the sample draws from players who suspected they had brain damage. But still. Football can continue like this for only so long, and you knew that, so this is just your weekly reminder. In the meantime, let’s get back to whining about celebration penalties and Thursday-night games.

The NCAA. The one thing that’s even worse than celebration penalties? Allowing colleges to veto players’ transfer requests. Every year or two, a new story emerges and you remember that the NCAA allows schools to control where athletes can transfer — or whether they can transfer at all — and it gets completely infuriating all over again. The current reminder comes from Alabama women’s basketball and the story of Daisha Simmons, but there will be more in the future. There are so many bad college athletics rules that it’s really tough to be far and away the most unfair, but this one does it.

Dwight Howard.

Stories like “Dwight Howard offers advice to JJ Watt about the Nae-Nae” are why people can’t stand Dwight Howard.


Everything Else at Media Day. Everything.

DION. Dionnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

The context for that is here, but context is irrelevant, because those words are bigger than that. Those words are immortal now.

Men lie, women lie, BUCKETS DNT.

Put it on T-shirts. Put it on billboards. Put it on buildings. Paint it onto the Cavs’ court in the same cursive they use for the NBA Finals logo every year. The year of Dion Waiters is going to be so much fun.

The Royals. I only caught the final inning, but that Royals-A’s wild-card game was everything anyone could ever love about sports. And nothing I say about it will be better than what Rany Jazayerli said Wednesday, so just go read his piece.

Coaches and the Internet. My favorite news of the week came from Washington State football. “Mike Leach predicts human extinction,” the headline reads. That story could have gone a few different directions — Leach definitely has plenty of batshit theories on global warming, the looming threat of pandemics, and/or nuclear war — but his topic this week was technology.

I’m not really good with technology. All this button pushing and whatnot. I mean, you can just imagine based on what’s happened in the last 15 years. Conversations won’t happen 10 years from now. There aren’t going to be people to talk to, it’s going to be this (mimics pushing buttons). “Do you want to go out on a date with me?” “I don’t know, what do you look like?” “Well I look kind of like this.” “OK, what are your interests?” “Well, what do you think my interests are? Looking to this thing and typing into this just like yours are.” “Yeah, no kidding, that’s what everybody’s doing.” “Well, where do you want to go?” “Well, what difference does it make? Because all we’re going to be doing is looking into machines anyways.” Well, that’s true and in the end, it’s going to be tough to perpetuate the species. There’s no question about that. So we’re all going to look in this box and eventually be extinct. That’s how it ends.

It’s wonderful. Every few months, a new coach will start talking about social media and unleash some of the grumpiest old man opinions imaginable. All this button pushing and whatnot. Ya know? Just mentioning the Internet turns some of the biggest names in coaching into the dad from Freaks and Geeks. Some other examples include Rick Pitino, who said this last year:

To me, I think it’s the great class of underachievers who live on the Internet and social media. I think it’s people that just waste their time, and underachieve because of it. Because they’re not paying attention to what they should be achieving to. So it’s a waste of time. I don’t know why people do it. So Russ is wasting his time. And he does waste his time. And so does Chris Jones. They waste their time when they could be spent reading valuable things. So I think it’s not that I’m against certain facets of social media, because I’m not, but what you’re talking about — what Russ Smith is doing — is a total waste of energy … time. It’s insulting, uh, intellectually, to be on it.

Pitino’s comments were taken out of context and he took a lot of heat for it, but listen, we need to be clear about this. As someone who spends way too much time on the Internet, “the great class of underachievers” is THE BEST DESCRIPTION OF TWITTER IN HISTORY.

There was also Tom Izzo from Michigan State, with this:

Or Brady Hoke from Michigan:

I wouldn’t Twitter. Why would I want you to know if I was at McDonald’s eating a cheeseburger, because it’d probably be three or four. I’m not real big into any of that. I don’t Facebook, I don’t Twitter, I don’t email. … If I want to talk to you, I’ll call you up and we’ll talk.

Here’s to hoping that was sincere, because whoooooooboy, this would not have been a good week for Brady Hoke to be big into social media.

You could ask just about any coach in America and get answers like this, and honestly, I prefer it this way. I don’t want coaches pretending to be hip and dropping motivational hashtags into every press conference. That will probably happen eventually, but until then, I like my coaches deeply out of touch with modern society. Which brings us to the gold standard:

With all due respect, I hate to admit this but I don’t think I’ve been online in a couple days or weeks or whatever, so that’s not really an important thing to me. I don’t even know what’s online and what isn’t online. … But we have a ton of information on all the players that are in the draft. What’s online, you should go talk to the geniuses that are online. I don’t know. MyFace, YourFace, InstantFace. Go talk to whoever you want that does that stuff. I don’t know.

MyFace. YourFace. InstantFace. It gets no better than Bill Belichick. And just for the record, none of them are really wrong to be disgusted by all of this. Leach is a little off, obviously. Human interaction will be fine — I guarantee people once predicted the same kind of doom when TV took over — but Pitino makes a good point. At some point, reading thousands of opinions all day is just a waste of everybody’s time. And yes, that definitely includes this column. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re enjoying life as an underachiever.

College Football This Weekend. I’m going to a wedding in Boston on Saturday, and I’ve never been more depressed to have to miss a day of sports. We’ve got Texas A&M–Mississippi State, Ole MissAlabama, LSU-Auburn, and Oklahoma-TCU; even StanfordNotre Dame could be good. I’m not sure how I’ll survive missing all of this. For the first time in my life, I understand what it feels like to be one of those antisocial meatheads in an NFL commercial.

While we’re here, an Ole Miss note from Holly Anderson:

Stuff like that is why college sports will never get old.

Todd Gurley. Georgia’s not playing in a big game this week, facing 1-4 Vanderbilt instead. But I just need to point out that, per Matt Hinton’s weekly recap, Todd Gurley is averaging 12.1 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. Pray for Vanderbilt this weekend.

The Raiders Being the Raiders. They fired Dennis Allen this week, and now they’re chasing Jon Gruden. It’s all in keeping with the Raiders tradition we’ve come to know and love. There are bad teams and poorly run organizations all over sports, but the Raiders are something else. The Raiders are bad, and crazy, and just weird. They are the closest thing sports has to the brotherhood without banners in Game of Thrones: just a bunch of crazy people on the fringes, praying to false idols, descending into madness. No matter what happens to your favorite team, the Oakland Raiders are your reminder that things could always be worse.

The Patriots. More Patriots losses means more grumpy Belichick, and that means we’re all winners. Quick, somebody ask him about Tinder.

Filed Under: Best/Worst, Michigan, Dwight Howard, Kansas City Royals, NCAA, Dion Waiters, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas City Chiefs, Mike Leach, Bill Belichick, Rick Pitino, Phil Simms

Andrew Sharp is a staff editor at Grantland.

Archive @ andrewsharp