In the second quarter of the Detroit Lions season opener against the Chicago Bears, one of the more strange occurrences happened regarding linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. After a 1-yard run from Bears running back David Montgomery, Collins approached an official, lowered his head and nudged the referee in the chest.
Immediately, the official threw a flag, indicating a personal foul penalty on Collins. After conferring with other officials, referee Alex Kemp decided an ejection was in order, and Collins was thrown out of the rest of the game.
Replays of the incident appear to show Collins displaying to the referee a “lowering of the head” act, which is illegal. But his helmet very clearly does come into contact with Kemp, as he stumbles backwards and reaches for the yellow flag.
FIRST EJECTION OF THE YEAR pic.twitter.com/OPhyPBO9Da— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 13, 2020
So was this the right call? Is Collins guilty of a 15-yard penalty? Is an ejection a step too far? Let’s take a closer look with our first “Breaking down the call” of the season.
What the referee said
The Lions’ pool reporter caught up with Kemp after the game, and MLive’s Kyle Meinke produced the entire interview. Here are the important parts.
Q: Does it matter how hard he hit you, or is it just that he touched you at all?
A: “No, players are allowed to touch officials, put a hand on your shoulder, or something of that nature. But unnecessary contact with a game official — it’s Rule 12-3-1-E. That covers unnecessary contact to a game official. So, that’s what I went with.”
Q: Did you think he was trying to explain what had happened on the prior play, or does that not matter either?
A: “No, I judged it as unnecessary, so I called a foul.”
Q: Did that call for an immediate ejection?
A: “I decided to eject the player.”
Q: Could you have just called an unsportsmanlike penalty?
A: “Not with his actions, unfortunately.”
Q: So, the ejection was because he touched you, and you can’t rule on intent?
A: “I ruled unnecessary contact.”
The official was nice enough to reference the exact part in the rulebook, so let’s take a closer look at that.
What the rulebook says
Here is the exact text of Rule 12-3-1-E from the 2020 rulebook:
There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:
(e) Unnecessary physical contact with a game official. Under no circumstance is a player allowed to shove, push, or strike an official in an offensive, disrespectful, or unsportsmanlike manner. The player shall be disqualified from the game, and any such action must be reported to the Commissioner.
There’s no question that Collins’ contact with the official was unnecessary. It wasn’t a hand on the shoulder or a high five or anything like that. The part where the rulebook gets into a very grey area is when it starts talking about intent. Was Collins’ contact “offensive, disrespectful or unsportsmanlike?”
It’s hard to say. In the heat of the moment, there’s no doubt the official felt disrespected. You can see it from his immediate reaction. But it’s almost impossible to tell what Collins’ intention there. Was the contact incidental? Did he just try to lightly nudge him. If it was the former, he may have gotten away with it, but if it’s the latter, that still technically falls under the rulebook of unnecessary and potentially disrespectful.
The official is also right that he says he can’t just call it unsportsmanlike contact without an ejection. It says right there in the rulebook. “The player shall be disqualified from the game. There is no wiggle room there. If you touch the official in an unsportsmanlike manner, you are ejected, no matter how light the contact.
The contact was light and possibly incidental. But Collins initiated it, and the official clearly took offense. It may seem like a drastic punishment for something so minor, but the league has to protect their officials, and the rulebook is (mostly) black and white.
It sucks. It doesn’t look like an act worthy of an ejection. But it’s hard to argue with the rule and the rulebook, and it’s on Jamie Collins Sr. to be smarter when in the vicinity of an official. Verdict: Sucks, but right call.