What Is a Facemask Penalty In Football?

facemask penalty

What Is a Facemask Penalty? 

A facemask penalty occurs when any player grabs the face mask of another player with their hands, fingers, or even their helmet. This can happen while tackling, blocking, or even during routine play when two players are jostling for position. It’s one of the most common penalties in football and can result in either a five-yard loss or 15 yards, depending on the severity. 

Why The Penalty Is So Serious

Facemask penalties are severe because they can cause significant injury if not called properly. If a defender grabs another player by the face mask and then yanks them down to the ground, this could potentially result in serious neck or head trauma that could end someone’s career.

For this reason, referees take these infractions very seriously and will usually throw their flag immediately if they see it happen on the field. It’s in the best interest of player safety.

When Are Facemasks Illegal? 

Facemasks are illegal whenever they’re used as an obstruction rather than protecting players on the field. The primary purpose of helmets and face masks is to keep players safe from impact injuries—not to use them as leverage against another player when tackling them or to try to gain control over them during play. If an official sees a facemask being used as an obstruction rather than as protective gear, they will alert the player.

Why Facemask Penalties Can Hurt Your Team

A facemask penalty in American football is costly to your team because it results in a 15-yard penalty. This often leads to the opposing team gaining good field position and sometimes even results in a touchdown. They also often occur when a player is trying to make a tackle, which can put his team at a disadvantage.

How To Avoid The Penalty

1. Make sure your grip on the ball carrier is below the chin and above the nose.

2. Try to wrap your arms around the ball carrier’s midsection instead of going for the head.

3. Let go of the defender as soon as you make the tackle.

4. If you grab the ball carrier’s facemask, use only one hand and do not pull down on it.


Understanding what constitutes a facemask penalty is important for players and coaches so that everyone remains safe while playing the game of football. Any time you see two players grabbing each other’s face masks out on the football field, it should be taken seriously, as it could lead to potential injury for both players involved.