USA Today

The NFL's emphasis on taunting penalties has been a hot-button topic during the 2021 regular season. The league's emphasis on assessing taunting penalties was on full display during the Steelers' 29-27 win over the Bears on Monday night, when Chicago linebacker (and former Steeler) Cassius Marsh was flagged 15 yards after celebrating and starring at the Steelers' sideline after a third-down sack of Ben Roethlisberger

A member of the NFL's Competition Committee, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked this week if he is a proponent of the league's emphasis on taunting. Tomlin said that he is and that he has reinforced the league's emphasis to his players during the course of the season. 

"We're just trying to clean our game up," Tomlin said. "We embrace the responsibility that comes with being the role models that we are. This game being played at the highest level. We understand that people that play at a lower level watch us and often mimic the things that we do and how we conduct ourselves. Just largely as a league, competition committee specifically, there was a desire to improve in that area."

The rules regarding taunting were not changed during the offseason. But the league has enforced the 15-yard penalty at a much higher rate than in recent years. While the league's emphasis on taunting has received criticism and support from the media, players who have spoken publicly on the matter have been more negative than positive as it relates to the uptick in taunting penalties. Vikings receiver Adam Thielen recently said that the penalties are "taking the fun out of the game." 

Super Bowl LV likely played a role in the league's emphasis on penalizing taunting. Tampa Bay's victory over the Chiefs drew as many headlines for Tom Brady and Tyrann Mathieu's verbal exchange and Antoine Winfield's taunt of Tyreek Hill. The league probably didn't like this aspect of the game being a main talking point in the hours and days following Tampa's victory. 

Whatever the reason, the NFL has decided to crack down on penalties, and players and teams have to make the necessary adjustments in order to avoid a costly taunting penalty potentially costing them a game.