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The NFL needs to impose severe penalties for fouls against officials



Fines are not deterring players

There was a frightening scene in Pittsburgh this week as the Washington Redskins’ DeAngelo Hall was ejected for verbally abusing Dana McKenzie and acting in an aggressive manner toward the head linesman (video).  Hall was guilty of violating Rule 12-3-1 of the NFL rules.

Under no condition is an official to allow a player to shove, push, or strike him in an offensive, disrespectful, or unsportsmanlike manner.

Up until a few years ago, it was almost unheard of to have a NFL player ejected for excessive arguing or for physically contacting an official, but since 2007 fouls against officials have been going up and I am of the opinion that the league needs to severely punish those who are ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct against the game’s arbitrators.

In 1980, Walter Payton caused a major uproar when, in his anxiety to argue a fumble/no fumble call against him, ran up to and bumped head linesman, Ed Marion.  After that incident, players would sometimes get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing with the officials; however  starting with Warren Sapp’s epic meltdown with the Oakland Raiders in 2007 (video) many more players have been ejected for arguing with or physically contacting an official.  Two other incidents in the past five years include Brandon Stokley getting ejected for slapping an official’s hand while arguing a call (video) and Justin Smith was given an early shower for pushing umpire Garth DeFelice out of the way during an altercation with an opponent.  In all of these incidents, the player was fined, but not suspended for his actions.

In Major League Baseball, yelling, screaming, and excessive arguing between players and umpires is part of the culture, even a sometimes celebrated part of the game.  In the NBA, players have also gotten ejected for arguing with the referees.  In those two professional leagues, players not only get fined, but they also can get suspended if their actions are egregious or if they make physical contact with the umpire or referee.  This isn’t so in the NFL. 

There have been more and more incidents of players getting ejected for fouls against an official.  Whether there are actually more incidents on the field like this compared to 30 years ago or if the NFL is instructing officials to eject players for excessive arguing or for intentional or incidental contact against an official is immaterial.  The players continue to lose their composure and act aggressively toward the officials.  When the punishment doesn’t deter behavior, it is time to make the penalties more severe. 

I understand that suspending a player for 1/16 of the regular season is a huge loss to a team, but I am of the opinion that suspending players when they get ejected for fouls against the game officials needs to happen.  The NFL needs increased penalties to keep the officials safe and to increase sportsmanship on the field.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"