clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

No NFL player has ever committed a penalty in the history of the game. Seriously.

New, comments

There's a difference between a "foul" and a "penalty," and no one seems to use them right.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Yes, it's actually true. No NFL player, or any football player at any level, has ever committed a penalty. Ever. They've committed plenty of fouls, but never a penalty.

While your buddies and, in all likelihood, your favorite sports columnist have all used "foul" and "penalty" interchangeably for as long as they've been armchair football experts, they are two distinct parts of the game.

The NFL rulebook lays it out crystal clear, and in one perfect line, in its 'definitions' section, Rule 3.14:

A Foul is any infraction of a playing rule for which a penalty is prescribed.

So no player, non-player or coach can commit a penalty, they commit a foul for which the opposing team can choose to accept a penalty.

Holding by the offense is a live-ball foul that carries a 10-yard penalty.

False start is a dead-ball foul that carries a 5-yard penalty.

Incidentally, there is also a category of infractions called "violations," separate from fouls, which do not incur a penalty.

For example, when a player on a kicking team is the first person to touch a scrimmage kick (e.g., a punt) beyond the line of scrimmage, he has committed a "first touching" violation. There is no penalty yardage assessed. Barring a fumble or accepted penalty, that is simply the "worst" spot from which the receiving team could possibly start its new drive. More or less.

Fouls. Penalties. Sound like you actually understand football at your Super Bowl party this year, or correct a fellow fan and get beer in your face.

Cyd Zeigler is a high school and college football official in Los Angeles. He is also the co-founder of SBNation's Outsports.com.


Nuff Said: Unfortunately, the NFL isn't as clear on what a catch is

Nuff Said puts the sports world on notice every Friday. Last week's episode explored star athletes, their spouses and the vitriol their fan bases spew at them. Be sure to subscribe to SB Nation's YouTube channel for new episodes of Nuff Said, Semi Elite, Wake Up College Football and more.