Where Does The Money Go When An NFL Player Is Fined?

The National Football League: the financial gift that keeps on giving. While non-fans look on and wonder why those adult men are bashing into each other after lining up with their butts sticking out, said men continue raking in the cash. Forbes says that the NFL's top 10 players alone earned $508 million in 2023, and Forbes also says that the entire league is worth $163 billion. In comparison to such figures, what does it matter to player X if he loses a mere $10,927 for tugging on someone else's face mask? 

That figure — $10,927 — isn't a random number plucked out of nowhere, by the way. The NFL publishes its ultra-precise fine schedule every year, as NFL Football Operations shows. A "foreign substance" on the body or uniform will cost a player $5,464. Leaving the bench area during a fight on the field — presumably to lend a hand — will cost a player $11,473. And you'd better not cuss out a ref — that'll cost $30,679. Oh, and these figures only reflect first-time offenses. Second offenses cost more, in some cases more than double the fine of a single offense.

With such precise numbers being tossed around the question begs: Where does this fine money go? And no, before anyone starts grousing, it does not go into the commissioner's piggybank. As Fast Company explains, the money actually goes to charities. Not just any charities, but charities that aid former, struggling NFL players.

Aiding former NFL players

At this point the reading crowd might be split into two camps: 1) Those who think it's sweet that NFL fine money goes to charities, and, 2) Those who think it's suspicious that said money supports former NFL players. After all, even retired players have loads of cash, right? Perhaps. But as RBA Wealth Management says, the average NFL player retires before the age of 28 — when lots of folks are just starting to figure their careers out, if that. There's a lot of life left after that, plenty of opportunity for financial and health-related calamity, and a long time to stretch NFL salaries, no matter how high. 

On that note, Fast Company points to two charities, in particular, that receive NFL fine money and help support former players: Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust (P.A.T.) Fund and the NFL Player Care Foundation. The Gene Upshaw P.A.T. Fund website says it helps players with, "unforeseen events or crisis, unaffordable medical situations, and players whose lack of college degree or certification is keeping them from financial stability." By the looks of the site, former players have to apply for assistance. Similarly, the NFL Player Care Foundation website is "dedicated to helping retired players improve their quality of life" and "addresses all aspects of life by providing programs and assistance with medical, emotional, financial, social, and community issues." At the time of writing, they've received $21.6 million in aid and helped 2,102 players. 

Part of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement

As Fast Company explains, decisions related to what to do with NFL fines are contained within the collective bargaining agreement struck between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NLFPA), the union for NFL players. It makes sense that the union, founded in 1956, would help take care of retired players. While the actual collective bargaining agreement doesn't say exactly what percentage of fine money goes to the Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust (P.A.T.) Fund vs. the NFL Player Care Foundation, it does mention percentages related to violations of the collective bargaining agreement itself. Those fines start at $100,000 and can reach $500,000. The money from such fines gets split between the two charities in question, 50/50.

To give the reader a clearer idea of how NFL fine actually money gets used, the NFL Player Care Foundation has information about health-related events, as well as articles that contain testimonials about the effectiveness of the charity. Former running back with the St. Louis Rams, Trey Watts, for instance, now works as a recruiter for Uber thanks to the foundation's career fair. "The transition into the workforce and finding the next opportunity was harder than making an NFL team," he said. "The opportunity saved my life. At the time, I didn't have much money, any mentors and I was bouncing around jobs. So, I found the most cost-effective way to get to Miami and just trusted God that something would happen."