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Couch: USA Today sports columnist Mike Freeman plays the role of clown in new column bashing the NFL

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USA Today published a column this week claiming the NFL's new taunting rule is about "control of black bodies." Longtime NFL reporter Mike Freeman wrote the fascinating and baffling piece.

Yes, I thought the NFL went a little overboard penalizing taunting. When players taunt each other after big plays, it looks stupid, unprofessional, and self-indulgent. But I'm not sure it warrants a 15-yard penalty and a $10,000 fine. The league might have been best served asking refs to shrug their shoulders and give the offending player a look of disapproval. The NFL is a TV show with a cast of characters jockeying for attention.

So, apparently, is USA Today. Mike Freeman taunted those of us with common sense. He argued in print that the NFL's new policy is a plot to woo back Trump supporters who abandoned the league — which he calls "Trump adjacent" — over Colin Kaepernick. It's a curb on black protest and a "social justice counterbalance."


"The league used Kaepernick as a cautionary tale," Freeman wrote. "'You can only protest in the way we deem appropriate. If you step outside of those boundaries, you'll get the Kaepernick treatment.'"

I don't think so. Is a 15-yard taunting penalty really a civil rights issue, Mike? I'm calling BS on Freeman here for recklessly bringing race into this, which minimizes serious race issues. He's wrong, and also what he said is insulting to black people.

Of course, the media work in flocks. There also was Carron J. Phillips at Deadspin, who said that "after the fallout from the NFL's continued blackballing of Colin Kaepernick and exposure for race norming, this is the NFL's way of telling white America: 'Hey, don't worry. We still have these n*****s on a tight leash.'"

No. It isn't. The NFL is an outward-facing business that thinks taunting is a bad look and a turnoff to paying customers.

Not only that, but also there is no continued blackballing of Kaepernick. The league attempted to hold a tryout for him, but he sabotaged it, didn't show up, and tried to hijack the moment into self-promotion. He doesn't want to play in the NFL any more; it would wreck his career as a professional victim.

And NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is not so stupid as to think that a 15-yard taunting penalty can be used to bring back white fans who left the game because the league was allowing players to take a knee during the national anthem.

Talk about convoluted. I mean, what is the argument here exactly? That black athletes aren't capable of acting professionally or with a little decorum and self-control? And that they should be excused?

Isn't that insulting?

Football players aren't yelling in their opponents' faces or spinning the ball on the ground in front of them like a mic drop as an expression that Black Lives Matter. They're doing it because they are trained to be amped up. They're in a mentality of hitting the other guy and showing they're the better man.

And when they're done proving their point, they're just looking for an exclamation mark. Or, sometimes, they're just doing it for show.

And the NFL doesn't think that show sells.

In addition, the NFL isn't in any financial trouble over its social justice stances. It won that battle. Attendance is up, TV money is rolling in, and the league weathered the storm much better than the NBA did.

That's not to say there hasn't been a place for taunting in history or that it hasn't carried social meaning. Muhammad Ali used to do it. Jack Johnson did it, famously standing over James Jeffries, hand on hip.

Sometimes taunting is just for fun. I was at an Olympics where Usain Bolt was under the stands about to come out for a relay. He walked past an opposing relay team — and me — and told them to enjoy the sight of the bottom of his shoes. They laughed and told him they hoped he wouldn't drop the baton in front of all those people who are watching, and wouldn't that be embarrassing?

That's just the culture of sprinters. They did it for fun and were all laughing together and hugging after the race, which, of course, Bolt won.

As a tennis coach, I once worked with a high school kid whose dad asked for help. I hit with the kid for two minutes and thought "Uh-oh, this kid is way better than I'll ever be." Then we played an entire set in about 15 minutes, and I won 6-0.

The problem was clear: He was too nice. You might not know this, but as a one-on-one sport, tennis is very mentally aggressive. Attacking, really. I told the kid to taunt me:

"Any time you win a point, stare me down across the net, point at me and yell 'F YOU,'" I said. I was building a mentality. After a few minutes, I told him to stop pointing and screaming, but just to think those things inside.

That seems to be what Goodell is telling the players now.

"One theory," Freeman wrote, "is that the league knew it might face potential backlash from conservatives over some of the social justice measures it planned to enact this season, and the taunting rule emphasis was a way to appease conservatives who didn't like the measures."

One theory? Whose theory? Your friends in the media, who bow down for approval among themselves on Twitter?

No. The taunting penalty isn't "racist" as the Deadspin headline said. At some point, Phillips said, the NFL will take heat over these taunting penalties and "will put Tony Dungy on TV to speak on their behalf, as he so often does whenever the league needs him to put a positive spin on one of their racist decisions."

Now, if you want to talk racist, how about suggesting that Dungy is a puppet of the league's white owners and commissioner, not strong enough to think for himself?

I'm calling a penalty on that accusation.
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