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Football Personal Foul Penalty

Football Personal Foul Penalty

A personal foul in football is a foul that stems from unnecessarily rough or dirty play that may put another player at risk of injury. Personal fouls are considered to be the worst kind of fouls in football as they violate the rules of respect and sportsmanship.


Personal foul in football is a broad term that covers many different fouls. These fouls fall into 2 primary categories, which are broken down below: unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct. In the 2019 NFL season, unnecessary roughness, the most common form of a personal foul, was the 7th most called penalty in the league. Overall, adding up all types of personal fouls would land it as the 3rd most commonly called penalty in the league, behind only false start and offensive holding.

Unnecessary Roughness

Unnecessary roughness is a play that is deemed needlessly violent. This includes roughing, which is described as a late or fragrant hit to a quarterback, punter, or kicker, a late hit to any player whether he be out of bounds, down, or the play be blown dead, grabbing another player's facemask, initiating contact with the helmet leading, or any kind of hit or action that the referee deems unsafe.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Unsportsmanlike conduct is called when a player violates general sportsmanship rules. This includes taunting, punching or kicking or verbally abusing an opponent or referee, or excessive celebration. Excessive celebration has been a particularly controversial topic around football, as many fans and players believe players earn the right to celebrate, as long as it doesn't take too long and hold up the game.


Personal Foul15 yards, automatic first down if done by the defense (penalty counts regardless of yards gained by offense)15 yards, automatic first down if done by the defense (penalty counts regardless of yards gained by offense)15 yards15 yards, automatic first down if done by the defense (penalty counts regardless of yards gained by offense)n/a

Personal fouls always result in a 15 yard penalty, and in most cases, an automatic first down when the defense commits the penalty. Additionally, at the referee's discretion, players can be ejected for committing certain violent or egregious types of personal fouls, or for committing 2 personal fouls in any 1 game. On top of that, at the league's discretion, players are often fined tens of thousands of dollars for committing personal fouls, particularly when they are the violent kind that gets them ejected, and in some cases they can get suspended.

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal personal foul

When calling a personal foul penalty, the referee holds one arm extended partway out from the body with a closed fist facing downwards. Then, they bring their other arm down in a chopping motion, striking one wrist with their other wrist.