During the season, the most important employee in the league office is the one who helps explain controversial officiating decisions. Currently, that job is occupied by (checks notes) no one.
This week, the league tasked former NFL assistant coach Perry Fewell with basically reading from a teleprompter to review a handful of calls for less than two minutes — and for the first time this season. That package of plays included one of the most controversial calls of the year, the decision to penalize Bears linebacker Cassius Marsh for taunting in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s game at Pittsburgh.
Fewell provided a conclusory explanation of the play, explaining that referee Tony Corrente properly threw a flag because Marsh was “posturing” at the Pittsburgh sideline.
The relevant language of the rulebook prohibits players from “using baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams.” In April, Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay explained that taunting would become a point of emphasis in order to eliminate “the face to face, the pointing of fingers, the standing over players on the ground.”
Marsh did none of that. However, the league’s wagon-circling around Corrente’s bizarre call (and even more bizarre hip check) now makes “posturing” a penalty, language of the rulebook be damned.
Fine, then. “Posturing” is a foul. Good luck making that clear and understandable and consistently enforceable.
Posturing. Thou shalt not posture. What is posturing? Does it fit Potter Stewart’s “know it when you see it” definition? We’ll see.
But it’s not just “posturing,” apparently. It’s “posturing” at the opposing sideline that the rules now prohibit. Even if the rulebook doesn’t specifically address posturing of any kind.
It will be interesting to see how the rule is enforced going forward, as to calls made and not made. The problem is that the definition adds even more subjectivity into the decision-making process, allowing officials to have broad discretion that, depending on when and how it’s exercised, will make some think that the league wants to engineer a specific result, or that the NFL has a Tim Donaghy problem. Regardless of whether either thing is actually happening.