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NFL approves ejection rule after 2 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties

Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers mixes

Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers mixes it up with Odell Beckham of the New York Giants after a play in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Jim McIsaac

BOCA RATON, Fla. — NFL owners on Wednesday approved a rule that will result in automatic ejection for a player penalized twice for unsportsmanlike conduct in a game. The measure was approved on a one-year basis.

“We felt like we needed to make a rule to make sure the players are held accountable for what they do,” Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the Competition Committee, said at a news conference.

Commissioner Roger Goodell brought up the idea of automatic ejection for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties last month. The Competition Committee crafted a rule that puts unsportsmanlike conduct in three categories: throwing a punch or forearm, or kicking an opponent, even if no contact is made; using abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures at opponents, teammates, officials or league representatives; or using baiting or taunting acts or words that “engender ill will between teams.”

“Sportsmanship is a key component,” Goodell said Wednesday. “While we’ve had points of emphasis in the past, they need teeth. This was a rule that brought teeth to that. It brought an opportunity for the rules to reflect the emphasis that everybody in the membership feels. Sportsmanship is important to us, our players, to our teams and to our fans.”

The rule came about in part because of a series of skirmishes between Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Panthers cornerback Josh Norman last season. After one play, Beckham was so infuriated by Norman that he launched himself helmet first into Norman’s helmet. Neither was ejected, but Beckham, who drew three personal foul penalties, was suspended for the Giants’ next game.

The owners also approved a rule to spot the ball at the 25-yard line after touchbacks, also on a one-year basis. The league has sought to reduce the number of kickoff returns as a safety measure because several injuries occurred on runbacks. The owners will reassess the rule after the season, in part to see whether placing the ball at the 25 will induce teams to try shorter kickoffs to entice opponents to return more kicks, which could defeat the purpose of the rules change.

Injured reserve change approved

NFL owners approved a measure that allows clubs to designate any player placed on injured reserve at the end of training camp to return when healthy. The previous rule required teams to designate that player at the time he was placed on IR. That player must wait at least six weeks to begin practicing and another two weeks to begin playing. If a team decides to wait until the regular season to designate a player to return, he must wait six weeks until the time of designation to resume practicing and another two weeks to be eligible to play.

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