When NFL players do things that are against the league’s rules, they usually get fined — as was the case when the Browns and Steelers got into a brawl at the end of their Thursday night game in Week 11. The nationally televised fracas brought a lot of negative attention to the league, with 33 players disciplined for their roles in the fight and a total of more than $700,000 in fines from the league. But what happens with NFL fine money? When players pay fines to the league, the NFL doesn’t keep the money. Here’s what it does with the cash.
The Browns-Steelers brawl
The brawl began in the closing moments of the Browns’ 21-7 victory over their division rivals on November 14.
Browns DE Myles Garrett hit Steelers QB Mason Rudolph well after he threw his pass. As the players were on the ground, Rudolph appeared to grab at Garrett’s helmet, and the defender then took off the quarterback’s helmet. Steelers lineman David DeCastro tried to separate the beefing players, but Rudolph continued to go after Garrett, which led Garrett to hit Rudolph over the head with his own helmet. Other Steelers came to their quarterback’s rescue, with DeCastro taking Garrett to the ground and center Maurkice Pouncey punching and kicking Garrett while he was on the ground.
Fines and suspensions for the brawl
On November 23, the NFL released the full list of fines and suspensions stemming from the Browns-Steelers brawl. A total of 33 players received discipline, with Garrett getting the most severe punishment. He was suspended indefinitely and fined more than $45,000.
Pouncey and Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi were also suspended, with Pouncey getting two games and Ogunjobi one. Rudolph earned a $50,000 fine — more than Garrett — and both teams received $250,000 fines.
Pouncey’s fine was more than $35,000, and the other players involved in the fight each have to pay the league $3,507 for their roles in the brawl. In all, 32 players were given fines for the fight, with the total coming out to $732,422.
Four other players earned fines of more than $100,000 total for incidents earlier in the game, unrelated to the brawl that got so much attention.
What happens with NFL fine money?
If you’re not familiar with how NFL fines work, you might think the money goes into the owners’ pockets, but that is not the case. There is actually some good that comes from fines in the NFL.
The fine money doesn’t go to the league. Instead, when the NFL collects fines, the money goes to programs for former players, thanks to an agreement between the league and the NFLPA. The money goes to the NFL Foundation, where the NFL Player Care Foundation and the Gene Upshaw Players Association’s Players Assistance Trust get a share. The Player Care Foundation is an independent organization that helps retired players improve their quality of life. The Players Assistance Trust helps former players who face financial hardships due to unforeseen crises or unaffordable medical situations, as well as assisting NFL alumni who want to go back to school to get their undergraduate degrees.
The NFL says that since 2009, about $4 million has been raised annually to assist former players. When some players pay a fine, they request what charity their money will go to, but former NFL director of community affairs David Krichavsky said in a 2011 interview that the league “stay[s] universal” in how fine money is dispersed, not catering to specific requests. Some players go so far as to match their fine with a charitable donation of their own, as Brandon Marshall did in 2013.
So, for every bad act you see on a football field, and every fine levied because of it, some good comes from it.