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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL cleaning up its act on poor sportsmanship

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Published:   |   Updated: April 6, 2014 at 11:39 AM

TAMPA – You can celebrate, but don’t gloat.

You can talk, but don’t taunt.

And don’t even think about uttering the N-word.

The NFL has publicly informed its players, coaches and executives that they are on notice.

Poor sportsmanship won’t be tolerated this fall. The rules already on the books are about to be enforced to a degree that will prompt a period of adjustment for all concerned.

With urging from the college game, pro football appears determined to clean up its act.

“After looking at a lot of tape and after talking and consulting with different entities - the coaches subcommittee, the Players Association and others - we agreed that we have an issue on the field,’’ said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a long-time member of the Competition Committee. “We agreed that we are going to get it under control as soon as we possibly can.’’

Noting that incidents of taunting vaulted from nine in 2012 to 34 last year, Fisher suggests a zero tolerance policy will be in place well before the start of training camp.

“We are going to effect change immediately and that change will be effected as early as the OTAs when players come back,’’ said Fisher. “We’ve got to change our conduct on the field. We’ve got to bring the element of respect in its highest level back to our game. We are going to clean the game up on the field between the players. The language is all in the book under unsportsmanlike conduct. There is no change in the rule -- we are going to enforce the current rule.’’

Predictably, there are critics.

The NFL has been dubbed the “No-Fun League’’ for awhile, and this crackdown on sportsmanship will undoubtedly embolden the skeptics whose mantra is simple: let ‘em play.

Fisher’s answer is equally simple -- we tried that, and it’s not working.

This $10 billion industry sets the tone for every college and high school player dreaming of a pro career. The NFL seems determined to be a responsible role model.

“The NCAA is hoping for us to do something at our level and we’ve got to take the leap,’’ Fisher said. “We are going to do that. If the college athlete sees something on the weekends that the pro athletes is doing, they, most of the time, are going to act the same way. Colleges are adamant about sportsmanship on the field and celebrations and taunting and things like that. They don’t tolerate it. Now, sometimes they may not see it, but we’ve got to get to that point where we can’t tolerate it.’’

When Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed NFL owners in Orlando a few weeks ago, he emphasized the R-word.

“With more success comes more responsibility for all of us to step up and lead,” Goodell said. “Respect for our game and those that came before us. Respect for each other — teams, opponents, and game officials. Respect for our fans, our lifeblood. Respect in our workplaces for the diversity that makes us stronger. Respect for our communities and the important role we play in those communities. Let’s embrace the opportunity to make a difference ... we’re expected to do that.”

In recent years, trash talking has approached the level of performance art at NFL stadiums.

Remember when Bucs Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp used to walk through the opposing team’s pre-game stretch, just to remind them who’s boss?

It sounds like those macho days are over in a league full of Rodney Dangerfields, just looking for a little respect.

ikaufman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7833

Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO

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