Ask Sam Farmer: Of stiff-arms to facemasks and wearing jewelry


Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to:


Why does it seem as though if a defensive player brushes a running back or receiver’s facemask it’s a penalty, but someone in possession of the ball can seemingly push a defender’s head back via the facemask and it is no penalty?

Chuck Klein, Ventura

Farmer: It might seem that offensive players get to do something that defensive players can’t, but the rules aren’t written that way. When it comes to the runner versus the tackler, either can legally put his hand on the facemask of the other and push. It’s only if the runner or tackler grabs the facemask and twists it, or turns it, or pulls it, that it’s a 15-yard penalty. There’s no foul except when there’s a grasp and a twist, turn or pull.


“I do think that when it comes to grabbing the facemask, officials have a tendency to focus more on the tackler than the runner,” said Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former head of officiating. “Even back in my day, we started to push the notion that you have to officiate both players when you’re talking about runner and tackler. But the rule’s the same. You’ll see more offensive facemasks now when it’s the runner who commits the foul. Usually, he pulls it down. It’s one of those misconceptions in football that one team can do this and another team can’t. The rules are exactly the same for a runner and a tackler.”


In my 50-plus years of watching the NFL, I’ve never seen a player wearing a thick gold chain while playing, the way Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree does. One quick grab could break his windpipe, or worse. Is this jewelry legal?

Ed Valenzuela, West Covina

Farmer: Surprisingly, it is, even though the dangers you describe are entirely conceivable. As particular as the NFL is about uniform violations, there are no rules against wearing jewelry under your pads or helmet, as long as it’s not a danger to others on the field. The league will fine you if your socks are too long, too short or the wrong color, but what happens inside the pads stays inside the pads.

Illegal are any hard objects, including but not limited to casts, guards or braces on a hand, wrist, forearm or elbow, unless such items are covered by a minimum three-eighths-inch foam rubber or similar soft material. If a player is wearing such an item to protect an injury, that must be reported by his team to the umpire before the game, and a description of the injury must be provided.

So Ronnie Lott couldn’t have loaded up a fist with four Super Bowl rings to deliver a diamond-knuckles punch, but I digress.

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer