That'll Cost You: NFL Fines Through the Years

Jim McMahon, famous for using his head.
Jim McMahon, famous for using his head.
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In the wake of the NFL’s crackdown on concussions and the increasing number of player fines issued for helmet-to-helmet hits, here’s a look at 15 other offenses, ranging from the serious to the absurd, that have drawn fines over the years.

Amateur Hour

In 1925, the NFL fined the Milwaukee Badgers $500 and ordered owner Ambrose L. McGurk to sell the team within 90 days after the Badgers allowed four high school boys to play in a game against the Chicago Cardinals. The fine crippled the franchise, which folded in 1926.

Wes Welker’s Snow Angel

And you wonder why they call it the No Fun League. Wes Welker made the world’s most expensive snow angel after scoring a touchdown against the Cardinals at snowy Gillette Field in 2008. An NFL rule prohibits players from going to the ground as part of touchdown celebrations, so Welker was fined $10,000. "It was a spur-of-the-moment deal, and you can be sure that it won't happen again," Welker told the Boston Globe.

Let Them Score

In 1984, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay was fined $10,000 for his unsportsmanlike actions during the final game of the regular season.

With the Bucs leading the Jets 41-14 in the fourth quarter, McKay called for an onside kick in an attempt to get the ball back and give running back James Wilder a chance to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season record for combined rushing and receiving yards. When New York recovered, McKay ordered his defense to let the Jets score. New York’s players were outraged and the Jets attempted an onside kick of their own in hopes of denying Wilder a shot at the record. Tampa Bay recovered, but Wilder was tackled by Mark Gastineau on the game’s final play, 16 yards shy of Dickerson’s mark. McKay, who resigned after the season, was fined $10,000. The Jets earned their revenge in the Meadowlands the following season, demolishing the Bucs 62-28.

Penalty for Losing

Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi reportedly fined players $100 for every day that they held out to help finance an end-of-season team party, but that was nothing compared to what one of his Packer predecessors did. In 1948, Green Bay head coach Curly Lambeau fined his team one-half of one game’s salary for a poor showing in a 17-7 loss to Chicago that dropped the Packers to 2-2. “One of the big reasons this situation exists is that the boys are getting good salaries and they’re content,” Lambeau said. “For that reason there’s got to be a penalty for losing.”

Aloha Means Early Goodbye

In 1993, Troy Aikman was fined $10,000 for leaving the Pro Bowl in Hawaii after the third quarter. Aikman said he needed to be in Dallas for a charity meeting the next morning.

Jim McMahon Uses His Head

In 1985, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle fined Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon $5,000 for wearing an Adidas headband in a playoff game against the Giants. McMahon wore the headband throughout the regular season, but the league had informed him that they would start enforcing the rule that prohibited players from promoting brands that weren’t sponsors of the NFL during the playoffs. In the NFC Championship game the following week, McMahon wore a headband that read, “Rozelle.” The commissioner reportedly laughed when he saw it. McMahon and the Bears went on to win the Super Bowl.

Brian Urlacher’s Expensive Hat

McMahon’s fine was a drop in the bucket compared to the fine levied against another Chicago Bears star, linebacker Brian Urlacher, at Super Bowl Media Day in 2007. Urlacher was fined $100,000 for wearing a hat with the Vitamin Water logo. Gatorade, of course, is the NFL’s official sports drink sponsor. The fine was especially hefty because of when and where the hat was worn. League officials said the same violation would have carried a $50,000 fine at the Pro Bowl and a $10,000 fine during the regular season. According to UniformViolation.com, an excellent database of uniform-related fines, Urlacher declined Vitamin Water’s offer to pay the fine. The hat was later sold on eBay for $15,000.

Ryan Clark Pays to Honor Sean Taylor

Of the many uniform-related fines the league has levied, this was one of the cruelest. One year after the murder of his former Washington Redskins teammate and friend Sean Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark was fined $5,000 for wearing eye black with Taylor’s No. 21 etched into it.

Ocho Bribo

“I was just being me,” Chad Ochocinco said after he flashed a dollar at an official during a replay review last season. “I wasn’t going to do it for real.” And the NFL was just being the NFL when it fined the Bengals receiver $20,000 for his attempt at humor. The league prohibits the use of objects that are not part of the uniform and reportedly didn’t appreciate Ochocinco referring to his act as a bribe in the postgame press conference. In the interest of protecting the integrity of the league, the NFL has long taken gambling seriously. Rozelle fined and suspended two of the league’s best players, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, for betting on games in 1963.

Don’t Sulk

Earlier this season, it was revealed that the New York Jets have started fining quarterback Mark Sanchez for poor body language in practice. “Today, there was a play in practice when he screwed something up,” New York offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told the Newark Star-Ledger. “He kind of looked like it was someone else’s fault. That’s a fine.” Veteran quarterback Mark Brunell collects Sanchez’s good-natured fines.

Patriots Fined for Sexual Harassment

In 1990, the New England Patriots and three of the team’s players were fined for their role in an alleged sexual harassment incident involving Boston Herald sports reporter Lisa Olson. According to reports, Patriots tight end Zeke Mowatt “smiled and purposely displayed himself to Olson in a suggestive way.” Mowatt was fined $12,500 and the team was fined $25,000 to pay for an NFL instructional course on dealing with the media. Olson filed a lawsuit against the Patriots, which was settled in 1992. She moved to Australia to get away from the threats and harassing phone calls that came in the aftermath of the incident before returning to the United States in 1998 and taking a position with the New York Daily News.

Wyche Docked for Banning Female Reporters

A few weeks after Olson made her allegations, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Sam Wyche banned a female reporter from entering the locker room after a loss. Wyche attempted to defend the decision by explaining that “our guys don’t want a woman to walk into a situation like that.” The league wasn’t having it. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue levied a $30,000 fine, which was the largest ever assessed an NFL coach. Tagliabue also denied Wyche’s proposed compromise to open the locker room to all reporters 20 minutes after the game ended and then closing it for a period to allow players time to change.

Don’t Be Late

On September 26, 1976, the Minnesota Vikings were fined for arriving late to a game at Detroit’s Pontiac Silver Dome. According to the account of the incident in Black and Blue: A Smash-Mouth History of the NFL’s Roughest Division, the Vikings’ team bus encountered some smash-mouth traffic en route to the stadium, and a trip that should have taken 5 minutes took much longer. As a result, the game started 22 minutes after its scheduled start time. “[Vikings head coach Bud Grant] likes to arrive at the stadium one hour before game time,” a Vikings spokesman told reporters. “We always check with as many people as possible and with the bus company as to when we should leave the hotel. We’ve been doing this for 10 years and this has never happened before.”

Halas Breaks a Rule He Helped Create

?In 1930, NFL President Joe Carr fined George Halas and the Chicago Bears $1,000 for signing Joe Savoldi, a fullback who had been expelled from Notre Dame for being married. NFL bylaws prohibited teams from signing a player before his college class had graduated, a rule that was established shortly after Halas signed Illinois star running back Red Grange in 1925 while he was still in college.

Joe Namath Misses Curfew

Former Jets star quarterback Joe Namath was repeatedly fined for missing bed-checks. A New York Times story that mentioned one such fine during training camp in 1975 included comments from New York’s chief medical examiner about the effects of alcohol on player performance. Dr. Yong-myun Rho determined that athletes could remain impaired from drinking even 20 hours after the fact. "I would say to a football player, 'Don't drink too much.' I would say that not because of alcoholic breath but because there would be an impairment of skills."

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10 Amazing Facts About Bruce Lee On His 80th Birthday

Photo courtesy of The Bruce Lee Family Archive
Photo courtesy of The Bruce Lee Family Archive

Bruce Lee is one of pop culture's most multifaceted icons. Legions of fans admire him for his movies, his martial arts prowess, his incomprehensible physical fitness, his championing of Chinese culture, and even his philosophies on life. Yet for all the new ground Lee broke, most of his recognition only came after his death at the age of 32. Read on to learn more about the life of this profound, if enigmatic, superstar.

1. Bruce Lee’s first starring role in a movie came when he was just 10 years old.

In 1950’s The Kid, a pre-teen Bruce Lee played the role of Kid Cheung, a streetwise orphan and wry troublemaker, based on a comic strip from the time. Starring opposite Lee, playing a kindly factory owner, was his father, Lee Hoi-chuen, who also happened to be a famous opera singer. (Bruce Lee was actually born in San Francisco while his father was there on tour; Lee would move back to the U.S. in 1959).

According to Lee biographer Matthew Polly, the movie was a big enough success in China to earn sequel consideration. There was just one problem: A young Bruce Lee was getting into fights at school and out on the streets, so his father forbid him from acting again until he straightened up—which, of course, didn’t wind up happening.

2. Bruce Lee was deemed physically unfit for the U.S. Army.

While he may have walked around with body fat in the single digits and could do push-ups using only two fingers, Lee still managed to fail a military physical for the U.S. draft board back in 1963. Despite being an adherent to physical fitness all his adult life, it was an undescended testicle that kept him from fighting for Uncle Sam in Vietnam.

3. Bruce Lee was an exquisite cha-cha dancer.

Long before he was known for breakneck fight choreography, Bruce Lee’s physical skills were focused on the dance floor. More specifically, the cha-cha. In Polly’s book, Bruce Lee: A Life, the author explains that the dance trend made its way from Cuba through the Philippines and soon landed in China. And once the cha-cha settled into the Hong Kong social scene, it didn’t take long for youth dance competitions to spring up. Lee had been taking part in cha-cha dancing since the age of 14, and in 1958, he won the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship. Foreshadowing his later dedication to martial arts, Lee would keep crib notes of all 108 different cha-cha steps in his wallet so that he could obsessively memorize them.

4. Bruce Lee refused to lose a fight to Robin.

The Green Hornet aired its first episode in September 1966, with Bruce Lee as the Hornet's (Van Williams) lightning-quick sidekick, Kato. The series would immediately be compared to Batman, ABC's other costumed crime-fighting show, and it wouldn't be long before a two-part crossover episode was in the works. And as heroes do, before they teamed up, they first had to fight each other. According to Newsweek, since Batman was by far the more popular show, the script featured a fight between Burt Ward's Robin and Bruce Lee's Kato that was set to end with the Boy Wonder getting the upper hand. But who would really buy that?

Well, Lee certainly didn't—and he knew no one else would, either. Williams later recalled that Lee read the script and simply said, "I'm not going to do that," and walked off. Common sense soon prevailed ... sort of. The script was rewritten to change the ending—not to a Kato K.O., but to a more diplomatic draw. Though The Green Hornet was Lee's first big break in the United States, the series itself lasted only 26 episodes.

5. Bruce Lee trained numerous Hollywood stars.

As Bruce Lee worked to become a big-screen heavyweight, he made a living as a martial arts trainer to the stars. Among Lee’s students were Steve McQueen, James Coburn, James Garner, Roman Polanski, and Sharon Tate. For his services, Lee was known to charge about $275 per hour or $1000 for 10 courses. McQueen and Coburn grew so enamored with Lee over the years that they remained close friends until his death in 1973, with both men serving as pallbearers at Lee's funeral (alongside Chuck Norris).

6. Roman Polanski may have (briefly) thought Bruce Lee murdered Sharon Tate.

In addition to providing Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate with kung fu lessons, Bruce Lee also lived near the couple in Los Angeles when Tate and four others, including Lee’s close friend Jay Sebring, were murdered by the Manson Family in August 1969. It would be months before the Manson Family was arrested for the murders, but in the meantime, according to an article from Esquire, Polanski had grown obsessed with finding a suspect, looking for potential perpetrators even amongst his own inner circle.

During one kung fu lesson in the months after the murders, Lee had mentioned to Polanski how he had recently lost his glasses, which immediately piqued the director’s interest. A mysterious pair of horn-rimmed glasses had been found at the murder scene near his wife’s body, after all. Polanski had even purchased a gauge to measure the lenses and find out the exact prescription so that he could do his own detective work, according to The New York Post.

The director, without giving himself away, offered to bring Lee to his optician to get a new pair—this would allow him to hear Lee’s prescription firsthand and determine if the specs discovered at the crime scene belonged to him. It turned out Lee’s prescription didn’t match, and Polanski never told his friend about his suspicions.

7. Bruce Lee had his sweat glands removed.

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973).Warner Home Video

Bruce Lee brought an impeccable physique to the screen that was decades ahead of its time. But because his roles required so much physicality, he would be drenched with sweat while filming. And apparently, the martial arts pioneer loathed the sweat stains that would show up on his clothing as a result. His solution? In 1973, Lee actually underwent a procedure to surgically remove the sweat glands from his armpits to avoid the fashion faux pas from showing up on camera.

8. Bruce Lee’s cause of death still raises questions.

Bruce Lee’s death at the age of 32 on July 20, 1973, was officially ruled the result of a cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain. Lee had complained about headaches on the day of his death, and was given a painkiller by Betty Ting Pei—an actress who claimed to be Lee's mistress—before lying down for a nap. He never woke up.

Though many reports at the time suggested Lee had an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the painkiller, Polly points to a mystery that began on May 10, 1973, when the star previously collapsed in a hot recording studio while dubbing new dialogue for Enter the Dragon.

In Polly’s opinion, Lee’s collapse had to do with heatstroke, since his stint in an overheated recording studio was compounded by a lack of sweat glands that prevented his body from cooling off naturally. Heatstroke can also cause swelling in the brain, much like was found during Lee’s autopsy. And Dr. Lisa Leon, an expert in hyperthermia at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, told Polly, “A person who has suffered one heat stroke is at increased risk for another" and that there may be long-term complications after the initial incident.

9. Footage from Bruce Lee’s Funeral was used in 1978’s Game of Death.

At the time of his death, Bruce Lee was involved in numerous projects, including the movie that would become Game of Death, his next directorial effort. According to Vice, there wasn’t much completed on the film by the time of Lee’s passing—there were some notes, a story outline (which simply read “The big fight. An arrest is made. The airport. The end.”), and 40 minutes of footage, including Lee’s now-iconic fight against NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Usually, a project in that situation would just be a lost cause, but production company Golden Harvest wanted to salvage what they could, so they hired Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse to put together ... something. The result was a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, comprised of 11 minutes of existing footage Lee shot, overdubbed clips from his previous movies, and stand-ins to fill out certain scenes. The director even resorted to using an unfortunate Bruce Lee cardboard cutout to complete one shot.

That’s not even the top rung on the ladder of poor taste: When the movie called for Lee’s character to fake his death, they used footage from his actual funeral to realize the scene, complete with waves of mourners, pallbearers, and closeups of Lee’s open casket.

10. Bruce Lee’s posthumous success resulted in its own sub-genre.

Lee’s career was exploding in China and gaining momentum in the United States by 1973, but he passed away just a month before his biggest hit was released: Enter the Dragon. The movie, which grossed more than $200 million at the worldwide box office, catapulted the late Lee to icon status. But with the star himself no longer around to capitalize, there would soon be a wave of knockoff films and wannabes looking to take advantage of the martial arts craze.

Both affectionately and derisively known as “Bruceploitation” films, this strange sub-genre of martial arts cinema gave life to z-movie oddities like Re-Enter the Dragon and Enter the Game of Death, starring the likes of—and we’re not kidding—Bruce Le and Bruce Li. Jackie Chan was even roped into a few of these movies, like 1976's New Fist of Fury. In 1980, Bruceploitation even went meta with The Clones of Bruce Lee, starring Dragon Lee, Bruce Le, and Bruce Lai, who play genetic reconstructions of the late actor after scientists harvest his DNA.