The NFL has drawn a lot of scrutiny in recent years over the question of safety. That attention is well-deserved, with increasing amounts of medical research showing the long-term detrimental effects of repeated head trauma for players. As a result, the league has continued to implement new and improved safety protocols and equipment.
Of course, players on the only people on the field whose safety the league must account for. Referees must also be protected from injury—particularly from players whose emotions may get the best of them. The league discourages aggressive contact by imposing stiff fines on players who hit an NFL referee. Here we take a closer look at this and other fines currently used to encourage good conduct in the NFL.
The fine for hitting a referee
As covered above, the NFL has an obligation to protect their referees from aggressive contact from players. Yet hitting a referee isn’t just a safety issue — it also has to do with public image. Negative player conduct ultimately hurts the way the league is viewed by fans and media members. Like other major sports leagues, the NFL wants to promote good sportsmanship and mutual respect at all levels of the game.
The amount of the fine leveled against players who make physical contact with referees depends on whether it is a first time or repeat offense. First time offenders face a fine of $35,096. For second-time offenders, that fine is basically doubled to $70,194. Beyond that, even more severe fines and suspensions may be issued at the discretion of the league.
A player may also be fined for taking verbal and/or non-physical offense with a game official. In that case, if the behavior is deemed severe enough, a player may be fined $28,075 for a first-time offense, and $56,156 for a second time offense. With those fines, the NFL makes it clear that no aggressive behavior toward referees will be tolerated.
What about non-intentional contact?
Football is, by its very nature, a highly physical sport. That’s true not just for the players for themselves, but also for the referees responsible for calling the game. In order to maintain a clear sightline, referees must often dodge in and around players during active plays. Not surprisingly, unintentional contact naturally occurs from time to time.
So what happens in such cases? If a player accidentally takes out a referee while attempting to move downfield, do they still receive a fine? The answer to that question, thankfully, is no.
If a player hits a referee accidentally, they won’t get fined. Of course, it can be a fine line when it comes to intentionality, so game officials must sometimes review instant replay footage to try and determine whether contact crossed the line from accidental to deliberate.
Other hefty NFL fines
Intentional contact with referees is far from the only fine imposed on players by the NFL. A complex fine structure also applies to any intentionally excessive contact with other players. Kicking, leg whipping, late hits, hits on defenseless players, blindside blocks, low blocks, and other flagrant offenses will cost a player thousands of dollars.
As with hitting a referee, the severity of the fine depends on whether or not it is a player’s first offense. The NFL also makes clear that its listed fines are just the minimum amount. In other words, the league retains the right to increase the amount of the fine depending on the particular circumstances.
Despite a laundry list of fine-able offenses, hitting a referee remains the most expensive. Only one other offense carries an equal fine: fighting.
Fights are both dangerous and embarrassing for the NFL, which is why they impose such heavy penalties. As time goes on, the league will likely choose to continue refining and tweaking its rule structure to discourage poor conduct on the part of players.