It is illegal for any player in American football to grasp or manipulate the helmet of an opponent. In extreme cases, this illegal action can result in expulsion from the game or a personal foul, which is almost always penalized with losing yardage. Now you can learn more about this penalty, how many yards teams lose, and its history!
Table of Contents
What Causes a Facemask Penalty?
A facemask penalty occurs when a player grips, pulls, or twists another player’s helmet to slow them down. It is the specific action of grabbing the facemask that triggers the penalty. In most cases, incidental contact with the helmet is not penalized. Referees, however, are often left to decide whether the contact was intentional or egregious enough to warrant a facemask penalty.
The “facemask” penalty is due to the cage in front of the helmet being the most common place for players to grasp opponents’ heads. In addition to gripping the edges of the helmet, ear holes, and padding, the penalty also extends to grasping other parts of the helmet.
While evading a tackle or executing a stiff-arm deflection, running backs and wide receivers may make incidental contact with a defensive player’s helmet. The facemask of an offensive player might also be accidentally touched by a defensive lineman. Offending football players are only penalized for grasping the mask if they wrap their fingers around it.
What About in High School or the NCAA?
Touching another player’s helmet can result in a facemask penalty in high school football. The purpose of this frequent call is to keep younger players safe. The NCAA, however, follows similar rules to the NFL in college football, which require grasping and manipulating the helmet to trigger a penalty.
What is the Result of a Facemask Penalty?
Facemask penalties in the NFL are punishable by 15 yards. A penalty can also result in a loss of down if the offense commits it. First downs are automatically earned by offensive teams when a defender commits a foul.
Suppose the officiating team deems the penalty particularly egregious, then the punishment will be more severe. For example, the offending player rips off another player’s helmet or uses their grip on the facemask to throw them to the ground. For unsportsmanlike conduct, the player may be expelled from the game.
Offenders used to receive varying degrees of punishment before 2008. In the past, incidental gripping of the facemask resulted in a 5-yard penalty, while intentional gripping resulted in a 15-yard penalty. This league ruling was amended to remove judgment calls between “incidental grasping” and “intentional grasping.”
Similar Penalties in the NFL
In relation to the facemask penalty, there are a number of illegal blocking penalties. Horse collar tackles, for example, involve grabbing the shoulder pads behind the helmet and forcing the player to the ground. The purpose of this penalty is to control an opposing player by using their equipment.
The illegal use of hands can also include touching the face of an opponent. As with a facemask penalty and a horse-collar tackle, illegal blocking with the hands carries a 15-yard penalty.
The penalty for roughing the passer can be imposed when a defensive player contacts a quarterback’s head or facemask. NFL coaches are exceptionally diligent about protecting quarterbacks, so they often call penalties even if the contact is incidental or happens before the quarterback throws a pass. In the same way, referees are cautious when it comes to making contact with the helmet of a kicker.
What is The History of a Facemask Penalty?
Facemasks in football are relatively new inventions in terms of equipment. There hasn’t always been a facemask penalty. Facemasks need to be rigid enough to fit football helmets. It means the punishment didn’t exist when leather helmets were used.
As plastic helmets became more common in the early 1950s, penalties followed quickly. In the 1956 season, the NFL prohibited grabbing the facemask. The penalty has changed over time, and today it is illegal to grab a helmet in any way, including holding it by its edge or ear holes.
Conclusion About Facemask Penalties in Football
Facemask penalties can be committed by either the offense or defense. It’s illegal in the NFL rulebook to grab any part of a player’s helmet to manipulate them. This penalty results in a personal foul and an automatic 15-yard loss for the offending team. It can, however, result in expulsion or even fines for the player who committed the offense.
What is the penalty for a facemask in football?
In all levels of football, a facemask penalty results in a 15 yard loss. Facemasks are classified as “personal fouls” in the rulebook, which result in a 15 yard penalty. Due to the potential for severe injury caused by face masks, the 15 yard loss is warranted.
What is a facemask penalty in football?
Facemask penalties occur in football when a player grabs or pulls another player’s mask. In fact, the facemask penalty extends to any holes on or around the facemask or the chin strap attached to the facemask. As a result of this penalty, players are less likely to suffer serious head or neck injuries.