Column: The NFL is finally loosening up, and baseball should do the same

Detroit Tigers' Jeimer Candelario fields and throws out Cleveland Indians' Yandy Diaz at first base during the third inning in a baseball game, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Three words: It’s about time.

The NFL, a.k.a. the No Fun League, is finally relaxing its celebration policy. They’ll now allow the football to be used as a prop, for teams to choreograph celebrations and for players to celebrate on the ground.

This is a huge step forward for a league that has been losing viewers and shows that the commission is, at the very least, willing to bend a little when the fan and player objections are strong enough.

I wish I could say the same about baseball.

To be clear, Major League Baseball has no official policy regarding celebrations, beside obvious things like running the bases backward or something excessive like that. Commissioner Rob Manfred came out and said celebration was a good thing in 2016 after Hall of Famer Goose Gossage said players like Bryce Harper were disrespecting the game by celebrating. Manfred countered this ideology with Players Weekend, which allowed players to wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys for a weekend to celebrate the youth baseball and the youthful exuberance of playing baseball; this was a tremendous step forward and an awesome gesture.

But the point still stands that celebration in baseball is something of a taboo these days among fans. Bat flips, fist pumps, exaggerated cheering from the pitcher after a big strikeout – you name it, someone has a gripe about it, and sometimes players actually have to worry about being thrown at if they celebrate “too much.”

Consider this: No professional sports league adheres to, or even has as vast of a collection of, its unwritten rules more than Major League Baseball. Don’t believe me? Well, you may be surprised to discover the Cubs are, by ordinance of the city of Chicago, only allowed to host 47 “night events” per season at Wrigley— I word it that way because it included non-baseball events like concerts— so as to not distract and take away from other businesses and events around Wrigleyville.

While this seems like an overreach at first glance, it becomes more obvious that it’s a traditional thing when you take into consideration Wrigley Field didn’t even have lights until 1988, and the Cubs have always been regarded as the team that plays day baseball. Even the Cubs are starting to get sick of it.

The reason they were able to play a night game was because they were flying in from Pittsburgh late at night and didn’t want to play an important afternoon game on little sleep. But the Cubs have been trying to get day games moved to night for years with no luck, and the city called this a “one-time exception.”

The fact that one of the most historically-rich teams that, hello, just won their first World Series in 108 years, literally cannot play night games without some grand “special exception” is ridiculous, and the only reason this still exists is because, well… this is how it’s always been done.

And baseball fans embrace this— not this specific example, but the idea that things must remain the way they always have. Baseball’s audience demographic is statistically from an older generation— about 50 percent of baseball’s audience is over 55 years old, according to Nielsen’s Year in Sports Media research from 2016. And many of them grew up watching players like Gossage and tend to agree with his point of view. Why else do you think the NL still doesn’t have a DH?

It’s called “America’s Pastime” for a reason, and baseball is a sport rich in history and tradition intertwined with the progression of American society. A lot of people, much like Gossage, probably see the increase of celebration and showing emotion as tainting baseball’s tradition and purpose; that it’s almost disrespectful for everything baseball has stood for in America.

But it’s time to move on from this notion. Just like the steroid era from the 1980s to the 2000s popularized home runs and power hitters after an era of shutdown pitchers, maybe this decade will be dubbed the “celebration era” because players can pump their first when they clinch a Wild Card berth.

The popularization of showing emotion in games can largely be credited to the increase of Latin American players in the MLB— the percentage of Latin American players has increased from 14.8 percent in 1990 to 27.4 percent in 2016. In places like the Dominican Republic and Cuba, emotion and celebration is not only encouraged, but they’re a part of the baseball culture there.

And now, they’re bringing that culture here. So it’s about time baseball fans stop complaining when Jose Bautista throws his bat into the air, and it’s time for baseball players to stop deciding which player they’re going to drill in the head as punishment for “showing up” their pitcher last inning. Because now, Latin American players are synonymous with the success of baseball. It needs the Manny Machados and the Yasiel Puigs and the Adrian Beltres if it ever hopes to draw in the younger generation.

At its very core, sports are entertainment. They are meant to be emotionally charged and fun. Athletes spend their entire lives training and, in baseball players’ case, grueling through unfulfilling years in the minors just to get the privilege of being able to play at the big-league level. If they want to pump their fist after a strikeout

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or toss their bat in the air after a walk-off home run deep in a postseason race, then let them. They deserve to have their cake and eat it, too.

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Stephanie Sheehan is the managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.