NFL Referees Penalize Black Players for Celebrating More Than Whites

Black players in the NFL are disproportionately penalized for “excessive” celebrations.
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When Carolina Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore was penalized for excitedly removing his helmet after catching a game-tying Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter against Atlanta two weeks ago, it was unfortunate on a number of levels.

The 15-yard penalty led to a missed extra point attempt and ultimately a loss in overtime. The referees got it wrong and never should have flagged Moore, who was outside the end zone when he took off his helmet. And perhaps most disturbing, the penalty was part of a pattern in which Black players in the NFL are disproportionately penalized for “excessive” celebrations.

An Andscape examination of data on unsportsmanlike conduct penalties found that since 2018, 19 out of 21 — 90% — of the flags for celebrating have gone against Black players, who along with biracial athletes make up 68% of NFL rosters. Only 9% of the calls were on white players, who are 25% of the league.

Those percentages are almost unchanged from a study done a decade ago, five years before the NFL loosened its rules on celebrations.
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