As long as players don’t kick or throw the ball into the stands, they are not fined for handing game balls to fans in the stands. The reason for this is safety as the NFL is worried that throwing or kicking the ball may hurt someone who isn’t expecting a football to come rocketing their way several rows from the playing field.
I’ve only had the chance to attend a couple of NFL games in my life, but I can’t imagine a greater thrill than catching a game ball. Even as I enter my mid-30s, I don’t know if I’d have the self-control not to wrestle a ball away from a young child if I had the opportunity.
But what happens to the player that does hand (or kick, or throw) a ball to a fan? Does that qualify as inappropriate according to the NFL’s litany of celebration rules? We’ll try to explain what constitutes a fine or not below.
- As long as the player hands the ball off to a fan in the stands, they won’t be fined.
- Kicking or throwing a ball into the stands can result in a fine of roughly $5,000.
- According to the NFL, Cam Newton was not fined for handing the ball to fans after touchdowns.
A Quick History of the NFL’s Indecisive Celebration Rules
The NFL’s disciplinary policies have oscillated a lot in the last couple of decades. There have been periods where no group celebrations were permitted after touchdowns, an era jokingly referred to as “The No Fun League.” While the league technically outlawed such celebrations in the 80s, it wasn’t until 2004 that they cracked down on this rule.
While any celebrations that have sexually suggestive content are still considered “excessive” and can carry a financial fine and a 15-yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty, group celebrations are once again permitted as of 2017. And thank goodness! Who doesn’t want to go to a game and see a quick rendition of leapfrog breakout? 
Let’s let this be fun as long as it’s not at the expense of the other team or is directly mocking them. I’m also all for bat flips in baseball and basketball players celebrating a clutch basket. Any excuse to link to the coolest celebration I’ve ever seen.
Why Does the NFL Discourage Players from Throwing the Ball Into the Stands?
But while tossing a football in the stands can’t be considered suggestive, a group celebration, or any other action that directly taunts the opposition, the NFL still discourages players from doing so.
Throwing or punting the ball into the stands is technically illegal and can induce a fine, although it’s a minimal one by NFL standards and is usually a little over $5,000. According to the NFL, it’s a safety issue as they’re concerned that someone will be struck by the ball who isn’t looking for it. 
During his run to the 2015 regular season MVP, Cam Newton’s go-to touchdown celebration became handing the ball to a fan in the front row near the endzone. Since he was technically not throwing or kicking the ball into the stands, the NFL claimed that they never fined Newton for the infraction. 
That’s lucky for Cam because over his career he’s handed enough footballs into the stands that the total fine amount would have been well over $250,000. 
The NFL rule about giving away footballs is a gray one. As long as you don’t kick it or throw it, but gently hand it to someone, you appear to be safe from incurring a $5,000 fine. In general, I’m all for players positively interacting with fans in much the same way that baseball players will often toss balls into the stands at the end of the inning.
Would you like to see more celebrating in the NFL, or would you prefer them to just play? What would your go-to celebration be? Let us know in the comments below.