The rules generally prohibit players from making physical contact with officials. In some specific situations, however, officials interject themselves into a scrum of flailing bodies. In those circumstances, what should players do?
That’s the obvious question arising from Thursday night’s ejection of Jaguars tackle Cam Robinson.
In the third quarter of the 31-13 Miami win, a loose ball following a fumble by Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew resulted in a pileup. The officials entered the fray in an effort to break things up. Robinson made contact with two different officials. It’s unclear whether he even realized he was doing so.
Look at the video. Dolphins cornerback Jamal Perry is laying across Robinson’s facemask. Robinson shoves Perry away in one motion. Robinson then shoves a second time, pushing away an official’s arm. Next, Robinson pushes the arms of another official away. The second shove seems to trigger the flag, thrown by the official whose arm was shoved away the first time.
“I saw the official jump in there, and the official told me afterwards he jumped on him [while in the pile] and Cam went to push him off him,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said after the game. “He touched the official. That’s what I was told. You can’t touch an official.”
Technically, a player can touch an official. The rules only prohibit “[u]nnecessary physical contact with a game official.” As explained in Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(e): “Under no circumstance is a player allowed to shove, push, or strike an
official in an offensive, disrespectful, or unsportsmanlike manner.”
The plain language of the rule makes the line less bright that it would appear to be. Here’s the real question: Did Robinson shove an official “in an offensive, disrespectful, or unsportsmanlike manner”?
There’s a certain amount of contact that officials assume when they decide to get directly involved in the disentanglement of bodies. For players who very much want to be disentangled, and who don’t want to be touched or grabbed or whatever by anyone, how are they supposed to instantly know that their effort to work their way free from the pile includes the incidental shoving of an official?
Again, look at the video. Is that “offensive, disrespectful, or unsportsmanlike”?
This may be yet another example of the NFL’s rules not matching the enforcement of the NFL’s rules by NFL officials. Regardless, the rules don’t seem to compel a hair-trigger flag-and-disqualify reaction whenever there’s any contact with an official, especially when it’s not clear that the player even knows he’s contacting an official.
So what should a player do in these circumstances? Going limp is the only safe option as it relates to the rulebook, but that’s hardly the safe option when it comes to the potential exposure to the various things that can and do happen at the bottom of a pile.
Cam Robinson ejection raises questions about conduct in a pile originally appeared on Pro Football Talk