NFL Rules on Face Masks

By Pharaba Witt

Due to the high number of serious head and neck injuries, NFL face mask penalties have become more stringent in recent years. By implementing strong penalties, the league encourages fair play during games. The NFL also enforces standards for proper equipment, forcing players to wear helmets and padding that are proven to protect against many kinds of injuries.

Face Mask Five-Yard Penalty

A light face mask grab will result in a five-yard penalty during games. If a defensive player grabs and holds on to an offensive player's face mask, the ball will move forward five yards. If the reverse occurs, and the offensive player commits the foul, the ball will be moved back five yards. Grabbing an opponent's face mask can often happen accidentally throughout the course of a game; these incidental grabs also result in 5-yard penalties.

Face Mask 15-yard Penalty

A more deliberate and dangerous face mask foul will produce a heftier penalty of 15 yards. If during the process of grasping the face mask there is any twisting, turning, or pulling of the opponent's helmet, this penalty will be applied. If a defense player commits this foul, it results in an automatic first down for the offense. If the offensive team is at fault, they will lose 15 yards before beginning the next play.

Outlawed Face Mask

As for styles of face masks, the NFL has outlawed single-bar face masks, the former favorite of many quarterbacks. This style allowed for the greatest area of clear vision, but also left the players more vulnerable. Due to new concussion and safety standards, the NFL decided to ban these masks.

Types of Face Masks

Riddell is the official helmet-maker for the NFL, as well as the provider of face masks. Players may choose to use another manufacturer, but they must blackout the name of the company. By working exclusively with Riddell, the NFL can more easily control how helmets and face masks are tested for safety, and decide what is considered an acceptable product.

The face masks themselves come with varying numbers of vertical and horizontal bars. Depending on their positions, players will choose helmets with as many or as few bars as possible. For example, as lineman often give and take severe hits, they tend to use masks with a greater number of bars in order to strengthen the frame and protect their jaws and teeth. To keep their sight lines unobstructed, quarterbacks tend to use the face masks with fewer bars toward the top of the face. Any of the face mask styles produced by Riddell are within NFL regulations, as long as they are not single-barred.

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