Sunday, December 29, 2013

Close Call of the Week: NFL Unsporting Contact Ejection

This edition of Close Call of the Week considers unsporting behavior on the part of players that results in inappropriate contact with an official. The rule referred to herein is NFL Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(g).
With 3:50 remaining in the 3rd quarter of the Rams-Seahawks game, Seahawks running back Robert Turbin ran for no gain, followed in short order by a confrontation between the teams, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree. While arguing the call, Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford made contact with Back Judge Steve Freeman, resulting in an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and disqualification. At the time of the ejection, the Seahawks were leading, 13-3. The Seahawks ultimately won the contest, 27-9.
Animated GIF: Langford's backswing hits Freeman; on second shove, Triplette throws the USC flag

12-3-1(g): "Unnecessary Physical Contact."
Replays indicate that during the course of argument with Line Judge Jeff Bergman and Referee Jeff Triplette, Langford swung his arm and (what appears to be) accidentally made contact with BJ Freeman's hat and face, followed seconds later by Langford (what appears to be) not accidentally pushing Freeman's outstretched left arm down. Unnecessary physical contact with an official => ejection. Ho-hum.

Nonetheless, this didn't deter Fox Sports' social media outlet from questioning the decision, fatuously determining that "an official's head got in the way of [Langford's] hand...Seems like a bit of an overreaction, right?"

Wrong. Especially considering Langford's actions in contacting the official a second time after the initial strike.

Rule 12-3-1(g) states unsportsmanlike conduct specifically includes "unnecessary physical contact with a game official." Note 1 states "under no condition is an official to allow a player to shove, push, or strike him in an offensive, disrespectful or unsportsmanlike manner."

An example of acceptable (e.g., not "unnecessary") physical contact includes incidental contact with the official during a live ball while attempting to complete a football play (run, pass, catch, etc.).

An example of unacceptable (e.g., "unnecessary") physical contact with a game official includes any contact—whether intentional/purposeful or inadvertent—that occurs during the course of argument or confrontation. This could include contact with a game official who might not be party to the initial argument, if this contact is unnecessary as in Rule 12-3-1(g). This most certainly includes conscious contact with this same game official for a second distinct time after an accidental wrist to the head.

Accordingly, Triplette's crew ejection of Langford was proper and the correct call according to a rule that all but requires officials disqualify a player who contacts an official in an unsportsmanlike manner.


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