In football, when one team either kicks or punts to another team, the person who is catching and attempting to return the ball can call for a fair catch to prevent themselves from getting hit and injured. A player does this by extending his arm fully above his head and waving it. However, when a player does not fully extend his arm above his head, it is an invalid fair catch signal and it is a penalty.
An invalid fair catch signal penalty is when a player is catching a kickoff or punt and does not fully extend his arm above his head when attempting to call for a fair catch. When called, the referees must move the ball five yards backward from where the invalid fair catch signal is made rather than where the ball is actually caught. Typically, referees prefer to give players some leeway and this is a rarely called penalty.
The invalid fair catch signal penalty was implemented for player safety reasons. An invalid fair catch signal makes it much more difficult for the team that is kicking off or punting to tell that a player called for a fair catch and can result in the returner being tackled when they are not bracing themselves and in the end result in injuries. This penalty being called also will prevent a fair catch interference penalty from being called when a player tackles someone who is receiving a punt or kickoff and makes a valid fair catch signal.
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The result of an invalid fair catch signal penalty being called is a loss of five yards for the receiving team from the spot that the invalid fair catch signal is made rather than from where the play is marked down.
In order to call an invalid fair catch signal penalty, the referee must wave one hand over his head while announcing the penalty and how many yards will be lost.