Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were fined $13,261 a piece by the NFL for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” To be specific, the two were fined for participating in a celebration involving a prop which is an act that the NFL classifies as unsportsmanlike conduct although most know it as excessive celebration.
After Elliott powered his way into the end zone on a 4-yard touchdown run which gave the Cowboys a 46-19 lead over the Colts, he motioned for Prescott to follow him over to the large Salvation Army kettle that sits outside of the end zone in AT&T Stadium during the holiday season. Dak wound up an imaginary crank on the side of the kettle as Zeke popped up while doing his signature “feed me” gesture.
Dak and Zeke became the 6th and 7th Cowboys players to be fined since Week 12. During the Giants game on Thanksgiving, four tight ends were fined for a celebration involving the Salvation Army Kettle. Micah Parsons was also fined for behavior during that game. He punched Giants offensive lineman Nick Gates in the face.
What Do the Rules Say?
As news of Cowboys players being fined has been shared, some have pointed out that no flags were thrown for unsportsmanlike conduct related to the Salvation Army kettle celebrations. This is because of a technicality in the NFL rulebook. Section 3 of Rule 12 of the NFL Rulebook discusses unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Article 1 of of that section breaks down 23 different “prohibited acts.” Using an object as a prop is described in part (g), and the rulebook says, “Violations of (f) and (g) will be penalized if they occur anywhere on the field other than the bench area.” The placement of the Salvation Army kettle places it in a part of the stadium not considered to be part of the field (which is also defined in the rulebook). Because of this specific wording, the team was not penalized, but the NFL was still able to issue fines.
Some have also questioned the different amounts of the fines received by Cowboys players. Fine amounts are negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFLPA. Even planned fine increases are outlined in the CBA. Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, and Dalton Schultz were each fined $13,261 since this was their first fine related to an unsportsmanlike conduct offense. Micah Parsons' fine of $11,139 was also in accordance with the outlined schedule of violations and fines.
Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot, and Sean McKeon were fined $4.895, $3,944, and $4,994 respectively. Those amounts are far below the designated fine amount for first-time unsportsmanlike conduct violations. The CBA does mention, however, that “no first offense may result in the imposition of a baseline fine in excess of 10% of a player's Salary Cap Count for the game.” This means that some players may be fined less than others based on that criteria. Nothing in the CBA suggests that fine amounts are ever adjusted based on personal or subjective factors.
Where Does the Money Go?
Something else outlined and agreed upon in the CBA is the allocation of fine money to charities, grants, and other benevolent funds and programs. This may be the reason why some players express willingness to hop into the Salvation Army kettle even though they know they will receive a fine. Money collected from fines is donated through the NFL Foundation to support efforts that fall under five different categories:
- Grant Programs
- Youth Football
- Health & Safety
- Character Education
According to their 2021 Social Responsibility Report, in addition to football related programs, the NFL Foundation also supported efforts that benefited military veterans, supported active military via United Service Organizations, improved access to mental health programs for young teens, and contributed to disaster relief in various areas across the U.S. Many of their matching grants go towards social justice initiatives, anti-recidivism efforts, programs that support women who have lost loved ones to police violence, and support of survivors of domestic violence.
The impact of the NFL Foundation, which receives funds from other sources in addition to player fines, is felt far and wide by millions of people in the U.S. as well as overseas via partner programs. As an organization, the NFL is certainly not perfect, but the impact of the NFL Foundation is certainly one of its sources of pride.