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Ravens coach John Harbaugh in favor of NFL’s crackdown of taunting rule: ‘Sportsmanship is very important’

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talks about preparing to play the Detroit Lions and taunting calls in the NFL.

Calls from fans and current and former NFL players to stop the league’s crackdown on the taunting rule have fallen on deaf ears — at least to Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Harbaugh on Wednesday said that he is in favor of the rule, noting it’s about showing respect and sportsmanship in front of a national audience.

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“I haven’t personally looked at any of the calls so far,” Harbaugh said. “I agree with the idea. I mean, sportsmanship is very important.”

Under league rules, taunting, which falls under unsportsmanlike conduct, is described as “using baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams.”

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Even though players have been called for taunting in the past, the NFL has placed a strong emphasis on it this season. Through two weeks, referees have cracked down heavily on the rule with 11 flags thrown, according to ESPN. There were 10 taunting penalties in all of 2020.

On Sunday, the Seahawks led the Titans 30-23 when Seattle cornerback D.J. Reed was penalized for taunting Tennessee wide receiver A.J. Brown after an incompletion on first-and-10. The 15-yard penalty proved costly with eight minutes remaining, and the Titans went on to win in overtime.

Harbaugh is a member of the Coaches Subcommittee of the NFL Competition Committee that meets regularly to discuss competitive issues, player safety, technological innovations, coaching and personnel development, and he believes it’s important how players carry themselves on the field being in the spotlight.

“We’re high profile,” Harbaugh said. “Kids watch us all the time, so the way we treat one another on the field is very important.”

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The Ravens haven’t been called for taunting so far during the regular season. However, cornerback Chris Westry and wide receiver James Proche II were called for taunting during the preseason and both were fined. Players who are penalized for taunting can be fined up to $10,300 on a first offense.

“How it gets interpreted from game to game, I think that’s something we got to work through,” Harbaugh said. “But it’s basically about respecting one another and sportsmanship.”

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera told reporters he is all for celebrations and players expressing themselves but wants to prevent brawls from happening on the field.

“We’ve had the example where one guy taunts a guy, then the guy comes back for a little payback, and next thing you know you’ve got a big fight on your hands,” Rivera said, according to the Washington Post. “You got guys coming from the left field hitting each other. And that’s really what ... the referees are looking for, just trying to get it quieted down.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday that taunting was something that needed to be addressed and he’s not surprised about the number of taunting calls through two games this season.

“All of us to a man acknowledge that that’s something that needed to be addressed,” Tomlin said. “That’s why it’s a point of emphasis and that’s why none of us are surprised at the number in terms of it being increased. The players will adjust, they always do. They better adjust quickly, and specifically speaking of mine.”

Players, however, have expressed their displeasure about the crack-down. In an Instagram post by Complex Sports that said “This new taunting is ruining the game,” Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady commented, “AGREE!”

Chicago Bears defensive back Tashaun Gipson, who was called for taunting against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, said, “I don’t want to be out there if I can’t be happy for my guys when they make big plays.”

“The NFL taunting rules are even worse than the college targeting rule and that’s difficult,” former NFL safety and ESPN analyst Ryan Clark tweeted.

Rich McKay, the NFL’s competition committee chairman, said in the annual rule changes and point of emphasis video that the “NFL Players Association, coaches and competition committee have all made a strong statement regarding respect among everyone on the field.

“We saw an increase in actions that clearly are not within the spirit and intent of this rule, and not representative of the respect to opponents and others on the field. Game officials have been instructed to strictly enforce the taunting rules.”

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