In American football, it is illegal for any player to grasp or manipulate the helmet of an opposing player. This illegal action results in a personal foul, which is almost always penalized by losing yardage and can cause expulsion from the game in extreme cases. Learn more about this penalty, how many yards a team loses, the history of the penalty, and more now!
What Causes a Facemask Penalty?
The penalty is not always called when a player grasps, pulls, or twists another player’s helmet. If the act is incidental of the contact, the contact is usually not penalized. Instead, the referee may choose to leave the play as is, or perhaps issue a minor penalty such as a warning.
This is the most common penalty for the facemask or headlock in MMA. It usually happens when the opponent grabs the outside of the cage and manipulates their opponent’s head. An example is when Johny Hendricks grabs his opponent’s leg, then throws his opponent down, and in doing so, grabs their opponent’s face.
It is not the intent of the rule to penalize football players for incidental contact with their opponents’ faces. In fact, the rule is designed to encourage players to take avoiding action. For example, defensive players can use their hands to push away from an oncoming blocker or use a stiff-arm to deflect a pass. If a defensive player does not engage in such activities when an opposing player contacts their helmet, or if a defensive is tackled and their helmet comes in contact with their opponent’s face, the penalty should not be called.
What About in High School or the NCAA?
The same rule is in place that keeps players from being injured by accident. The NCAA follows the same rules as the NFL, requiring players to actually grasp or manipulate the other player’s helmet in order to get a penalty.
What is the Result of a Facemask Penalty?
This rule states that when a defender holds his face in the direction of a player, it should be considered a foul. If the defender does this, the offensive team will receive an automatic first down. If the offensive team commits the penalty, they will lose a down and have the chance to earn an automatic first down.
Note: In football, a penalty is a penalty regardless of whether it is committed by a defensive player or offensive player. In fact, referees are required to administer penalties equally.
The officiating team can choose to penalize the player in question by either a) suspending them from the game, b) ejecting them from the game, or c) awarding a penalty (either a free kick or a penalty shot). It is possible, that the penalty will be more severe. It is possible, that the officiating team will give the player a yellow card, which is a warning, and will have no further consequence. It is possible, that the officiating team will give the offending player a red card, and then the player in question will have to leave the game.
Similar Penalties in the NFL
The “horse-collar” is a penalty in which a defender grabs an opposing player by the shoulder pads and forces them to the ground if they do not release the tackle. The horse collar is one of the more common illegal contact fouls in football, and it is a major reason why facemask is a penalty in the first place.
Â Illegal use of hand can also include grabbing the facemask, horse collar or face, as well as touching the face of an opposing player. It comes as a 15-yard penalty.
If a defensive player contacts the head or facemask of a kicker, they can be at risk for roughing the kicker penalty. The NFL is exceptionally diligent in protecting kickers, so it will often call a penalty even if the contact is incidental or if the contact happens before the kicker throws a forward pass. Referees are similarly cautious about contact made with a defensive player’s helmet.
What is The History of a Facemask Penalty?
The first football helmet was invented around the 1880s, and the first rule book for the game was written around the 1890s. As far as equipment is concerned, facemasks in football are relatively new inventions. That means there hasn’t always been a facemask penalty. For a facemask to fit a football helmet, the structure has to be rigid enough to support it. That means the punishment didn’t exist during the leather-helmet era.
In the 1950s, plastic helmets were adopted as standard equipment for football teams. The helmets were made out of plastic to absorb the impact of hits, but they were usually made out of hard plastic, which could be easily knocked off. Later, soft helmets began to become standard equipment.
Conclusion About Facemask Penalties in Football
The NFL has a special, more severe penalty for facemask penalties called the “helmet chop”. The rule states that if the offensive player chucks his helmet to the ground, all contact with the player must be stopped for the remainder of the play and the team will be penalized 15 yards.
In the case of Hijinks, the official scorer called this play an illegal facemask penalty, however, he cited to the rulebook that the rule was not to be applied to this case.
The offensive player was penalized for a personal foul by contact with the opponent.