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The NFL is cracking down hard on illegal celebrations. Players and fans ask, why?

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown celebrates after scoring a touchdown. Brown was penalized for the celebration. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Twerking? Don’t do it, Antonio Brown.

Shooting a fake bow and arrow? No way, Josh Norman and Brandin Cooks.

Taking off your helmet? Nope, Odell Beckham Jr.

Shooting a jump shot over the crossbar? Forget about it, Vernon Davis.

NFL officials are throwing penalty flags for illegal celebrations and taunting with increasing regularity this season as part of the league’s push for improved sportsmanship among players. Some players, fans and other observers wonder if the kind of crackdown that earned the sport the nickname of the “No Fun League” over the years has gone too far this time.

NFL VP of officiating explains why Vernon Davis was penalized for his jump shot

“I didn’t know it was a penalty… I was doing that when I was in San Francisco and now all of a sudden it’s a penalty,” said Davis, the veteran tight end for the Washington Redskins. “[It was] like: ‘Hey, where’d that come from, guys?’ ”

Davis’s transgression was illegally using the football as a prop by flipping it, basketball jump shot-style, over the crossbar following a touchdown catch last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“You’re just shooting the ball over the goal post,” Davis said in the home locker room at FedEx Field after the game. “You’re not taunting. I don’t think that’s taunting. You’re just celebrating, right? But, like I said, it’s out of my control. All I can do is correct it next time and not shoot it.”

That’s what the NFL wants to hear.

“The [competition] committee looks at this every year,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at his news conference following the owners’ meeting in Houston. “This is one of those things — I’ve been in the league 35 years. I don’t think there’s been a year where we didn’t look at this issue.

“It comes down to balancing a lot of issues, the professional standards that we want to uphold. We do believe that our players are role models and others look at that at the youth level. So that’s important for us to hold that standard up. And it’s part of being a professional. So that’s one element of it.”

The NFL is attempting to legislate joy out of its game. Maybe it should stop.

Goodell spoke of sportsmanship when he directed the competition committee this past offseason — in the aftermath of last season’s series of on-field confrontations between Norman, the cornerback then with the Carolina Panthers, and Beckham, the New York Giants’ star wide receiver — to propose a rule requiring an automatic ejection of any player penalized twice for unsportsmanlike-conduct personal fouls in the same game.

The owners ratified the rule after the committee pared it down to include only certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct calls. The automatic ejection rule has had little impact on this season thus far; the only player ejected has been Giants center Weston Richburg. There have been 28 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called league-wide through Week 6 of this season, compared with 29 at the same point last season.

But the sportsmanship push has been seen more prevalently in other areas. There have been 16 penalties through Week 6 for excessive celebrations and illegal demonstrations, compared with 10 at this point last season. There have been 21 taunting penalties, up from 11 last season.

“We have taunting, which is a significant issue, and taunting fouls are up this year,” Goodell said Wednesday. “It’s probably a combination of making that a point of emphasis. But we look at that as sportsmanship. And that can lead to, in most cases when somebody taunts somebody else, somebody reacts and that can escalate quickly.

“So those are things that we’re really concerned about. We look at it closely. The committee balances those issues. I don’t think they’re being officiated inconsistently. People may not like the rule. They may not like the line that’s been drawn. But we believe it’s part of being a professional league.”

Some media members have criticized the league for attempting to legislate the joy out of the game or acting overly paternalistic toward players. Players have said they mean no harm.

Cooks, who has avoided being penalized for his bow-and-arrow routine while Norman was penalized and fined for his, says his gesture is inspired by Bible passages.

“I’ve been doing it for three years now, and there was never a complaint about it,” Cooks told the New Orleans Advocate. “Now, all of a sudden, there is. It just reminds me that, it’s almost as if they try to take so much away from us, but for something like this, that means so much to someone that has nothing to do with violence, it’s frustrating. I’ll definitely continue to speak my opinion about it, and if they have a problem with it, so be it.”

NFL’s celebration penalties aren’t about sportsmanship. They’re about control.

Some of the penalties have resulted in significant on-field consequences. The Baltimore Ravens nearly crafted a game-winning drive — but fell just short — after Beckham was penalized last Sunday for removing his helmet during a late-game touchdown celebration. The Eagles returned the kickoff for a touchdown after the Redskins were pushed 15 yards back by Davis’s penalty.

Davis was asked whether he thought what he did should constitute a penalty.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “But like I said, it’s out of my control.”

And was it even a good shot?

“It was a great shot!” he answered.

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden had shown his players video clips during a team meeting about what the league considered illegal celebrations. But the jump shot wasn’t covered, Davis said.

“He talked about the dunking [the football over the goal post] and everything else,” Davis said. “But I think he forgot to mention that if you shoot it, you get a penalty. When I left that meeting, I was scratching my head. I was like, ‘Maybe I should ask him about the shooting, too.’ But now I get it. I get the point. That will never, ever happen again. Ever.”

Ultimately it’s up to players to operate within the parameters set by the league on the issue, Davis said.

“They set the rules,” Davis said. “It’s our job to go out there and be in compliance and respect it. Sometimes you can get overwhelmed with yourself and you’re not really thinking correctly, and you can make an irrational decision when it comes to celebrating. It’s not deliberate sometimes. It just happens. So you have to continue to move forward, look at film and know what you did, and try not to put the team in a situation where we can hurt ourselves, right? And that’s it.”