NFL world erupts over 'unacceptable' detail in image of referees

Seen here, an NFL referee appears to ask Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans to sign autograph.
Two NFL referees are under scrutiny for appearing to ask Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans to sign autographs for them. Pic: Getty/Twitter

The NFL has launched an investigation after footage emerged showing a pair of referees appearing to ask Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans for an autograph following the Bucs' 21-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday morning (AEDT).

The interaction was recorded in the stadium tunnel by Fox Sports reporter Sheena Quick and posted on her Twitter account in two parts.

The footage shows referees Jeff Lamberth and Tripp Sutter calling Evans’ name, before the Bucs star turns around to face them.

Lamberth and Sutter then hand Evans a piece of paper and a pen, and stand patiently as Evans appears to write something down before handing the paper back to them.

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As per the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the the NFL Referees Association prohibits officials from approaching players, coaches and NFL team personnel for autographs, as it can give the appearance of partiality.

However, the agreement does allow officials to seek autographs, team merchandise and memorabilia for charitable endeavours, provided the request is made through the league's officiating department and not in person.

As first reported by NFL Network insider Tom Pelissero, the exchange between the match officials and Evans is set to come under scrutiny from the NFL.

Fox Sports NFL rules analyst Dean Blandino described the incident as a ‘no, no’ from an optics perspective.

“It’s just a quick snippet. There’s a lot of context we don’t have at this point,” Blandino said.

“From being in the officiating apartment and being in charge of officials, you're always talking to your officials about optics. What does it look like? “And when we talking about asking for autographs, taking pictures with players, that’s a no, no - you don’t do that.

“Because again, the perception is if we’re too friendly, people go down a path. We know the integrity of the game and integrity of the officials it’s the highest standard and we can’t do anything to put that into question.”

NFL could sanction referees over incident

Blandino said that if the NFL determines Lamberth and Sutter did ask for Evans’ signature, the officials could be sanctioned.

“If it comes out in the investigation that the officials did ask for an autograph or did anything improper, then there will be discipline,” Blandino said. “That could be a fine, that could be a suspension. We hope that’s not the case, but the optics of even appearing to ask for an autograph is something that we don’t want from game officials. “It puts the player in a tough spot, it adds to a perception that we don’t want.”

The incident capped off a forgettable day for Evans, who inexplicably blew an opportunity to score the Bucs only touchdown of the game when he dropped a pass from Tom Brady despite being wide open with the end zone at his mercy.

The botched play proved costly as Tampa Bay’s offence stalled throughout the remainder of the contest, allowing the Panthers to secure victory.

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