An unusual scene played out following the Buccaneers-Panthers game that involves two officials and a star player, captured on camera by a Panthers reporter in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms. Side judge Jeff Lamberth and line judge Tripp Sutter stop Bucs receiver Mike Evans and give him a piece of paper and a pen, which has all appearances of seeking an autograph.
The video was shot and tweeted by Nasheena Quick, a beat reporter for the Panthers, which was also tweeted by Football Zebras.
A league source has told Football Zebras that the league is investigating the matter.
League rules prohibit Lamberth and Sutter from discussing the matter with the media.
Two officiating sources have told us that this was not an attempt to get an autograph from Evans. What is missing is the detail of what Lamberth and Sutter were handing Evans, and neither source could fill in those blanks. Officials are prohibited from seeking autographs directly from the players because it gives the appearance of partiality, and it places the player, who is conscious of the value of his autograph, in a compromising situation.
“The optics are obviously not good,” one source acknowledged. “The league has photos of the card. I’ll let them say what they want about their investigation. Lamberth didn’t get an autograph. Sutter is wholly innocent, just doing what was asked of him by a crew mate, not understanding fully what was going on.” The card being referred to is apparently the game card that officials record fouls, timeouts, captains, and other critical game information. Those cards are used to create the official’s game report, and the card is submitted to the league.
The NFL Referees Association confirmed to Football Zebras that no autographs were sought after the game, but declined to provide any further details.
Assuming the sources are correct and no autograph is sought, this is still a highly irregular situation of officials confronting a player after a game. There is no routine that requires Evans, as a team captain, to sign or fill out anything for the officials. If there is a legitimate purpose to obtain information from Evans — such as contact information for a charity event in the offseason, hypothetically — that is better handled through the officiating department and team officials.
The collective bargaining agreement with the NFL and the NFLRA prohibits autograph seeking or having the appearance of doing so, in this excerpt obtained by Football Zebras:
Game Officials must even avoid the appearance of profiting or personally benefiting from their association with the NFL, other than from compensation provided under the NFLRA Collective Bargaining Agreement. NFL Game Officials are permitted to receive compensation for speaking engagements or for participating in officiating clinics as long as these activities do not conflict with Article 22 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. In addition to the prohibitions set forth … above, Game Officials shall not:
· sell or trade NFL tickets for anything of greater value than the face value of the tickets; or
· sell or trade for anything of value NFL merchandise, autographs or memorabilia; or
· ask players, coaches or any other team personnel for autographs or memorabilia.
The NFL recognizes that Game Officials may need to obtain player autographs or team merchandise or memorabilia for personal or charitable purposes. Such requests should be made through the Officiating Department and never to a player or team employee directly. These requests will be honored whenever practicable so long as the requests are reasonable and in accordance with League and NFL Properties policies regarding such requests. The Officiating Department will develop the procedures and a form for responding to these requests in a prompt fashion.
The last time a reporter captured video of a player-official confrontation in the passageways to the locker rooms, it was a verbal confrontation between umpire Roy Ellison and defensive end Jerry Hughes, who was then with the Bills. Ellison was suspended one game for the incident, one of only 8 times an official has been suspended.
In 1995, head linesman Jerry Bergman Sr. was reprimanded for seeking autographs from Packers quarterback Brett Favre and Bucs linebacker Hardy Nickerson prior to a game. At the time, there was no autograph provision in the collective bargaining agreement, according to a former official who was in the NFL at the time. Quirky Research found that Bergman was fined $2,000 for that incident.
This post was updated to reflect information from the NFLRA shortly after publication, and updated where marked when the NFL released a statement and the additional information via NFL Media.