Is It Legal To Punch The Football?

American Football is a contact sport, we all know that, but how far does that go? And what moves are legal that you’d normally not expect?

Is It Legal To Punch The Football?

In this article we’ll be asking if it’s legal to punch the football in American football, and taking a look at some of the other moves you can perform, you might be surprised! So without further ado let’s get started.

So, Is It Legal To Punch The Football?

According to the NFL rule book, punching at a football is actually an illegal play, it reads:

A player may not bat or punch:

(A) A loose ball (in field of play) toward his opponent’s goal line or in any direction in either end zone.

(B) A ball in player possession.

After this it then notes that:

 If there is any question as to whether a defender is stripping or batting a ball in player possession, the official(s) will rule the action as a legal act (stripping the ball).

Clearly then we can see that it’s illegal to punch the football in any capacity whilst the ball is in play. Regardless of if it’s in a player’s hands or just rolling on the field.

The issue lies in the fact that players will often try to grab the ball from other players arms, but whether or not this is considered a punch by the referee seems to change day to day, with a game as fast paced and as hectic as american football, it can be difficult to see every tackle and grab made by defenders.

Safety Measures

Before the 2011 season, new rules were enforced to the NFL with the aim of protecting ‘defenseless players’.

These defenseless players were given these rules in order to add some safety to the game, by removing any second guessing from attacking players when they were at their most vulnerable, The 8 separate definitions of defenseless players are listed below:

  • A receiver trying to catch a pass.
  • A runner already in the grasp of tacklers and having his forward progress stopped.
  • A player fielding a punt or a kickoff.
  • A kicker or punter during the kick.
  • A quarterback at any time after change of possession.
  • A receiver who receives a blind-side block.
  • A player already on the ground.
  • A quarterback in the act of throwing.

As well as these safety measures, in 2013 yet another measure was taken which banned offensive players lowering the crowns of their helmets in order to try to ward off defenders. But what’s the need for all of these safety measures? 

It’s important to remember that whilst american football is a contact sport, it’s not a combat sport, so punching and openly dangerous moves will always be considered fouls.

But in saying that, football can sometimes seem like a sport full of contradictions and really confusion terminology, so let’s take a look into that

Penalties In Football

When a foul happens in football, a yellow flag will be thrown into the turf in an NFL game. When this happens, you’ll know someone’s broken the rules.

When the yellow flag hits the turf in an NFL football game, you know somebody has broken the rules. However, understanding exactly what’s gone wrong can be a little bewildering.

Is It Legal To Punch The Football?

Football sometimes seems like a game of contradictions and intentionally confusing terminology.

In an NFL game, there’s usually 7 different referees on the field at one single time. Whilst they’re all responsible for making sure that the game is played in the correct way, only one is actually called a referee.

This is because the others are Back Judge, Line Judge Side Judge, Field Judge Umpire and Down Judge. The Referee is the leader of all of these different judges, and can be distinguished with his white cap. 

Every Judge has a different role that they have to monitor during the game, and even though football can be a fast paced and hectic game at times, you’d be surprised at the amount that they can catch whilst watching the game. 

When fouls happen they can be disastrous for a team, yards or downs can be given to the opposing team, and in some cases players can be sent off altogether for misconduct during playtime. 

Roughing The Passer

Roughing the passer may be a term you’re familiar with if you’ve watched some football before, the phrase means when a person tries to make an illegal tackle on the opponent’s quarterback after they’ve already passed the ball.

There’s an enormous section about this in the NFL handbook that also states about going after a player’s knees, and using your hands to club at his throwing hand, which is something which is often the case when players attempt to punch the ball out of a players hand, and end up hitting the player instead. 

There’s many cases of this happening too, both intentionally and unintentionally, in 2016 whilst playing for the Seahawks Earl Thomas accidentally punched a Falcons player whilst going to punch the ball from his hands. 

Where You Might See Players Punching The Football

Whilst punching the football is an illegal move in the NFL, it remains an effective way of getting the ball out of an offensive player’s hands in other games, like college football or an amateur game.

So don’t discredit punching the ball out as a completely illegal move just yet.

Final Thoughts

Punching the football is always considered an illegal move in the NFL, and whilst that means that sometimes players can go unnoticed going to punch the ball because of how hard it is to see during a match, if they’re caught then action will always be taken accordingly. 

Steven Anderson