Football Refs Don’t Throw Their Hats (Just) Because They’re Fed up With Players on the Field

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Dec. 28 2021, Published 2:43 p.m. ET

NFL Referee
Source: Getty Images

Different sports have different rules, practices, and little idiosyncrasies that might seem super strange to outsiders. Pro soccer players flop to the ground whenever so much as a gust of wind crosses their path. And tennis players let out a grunt/moan whenever they launch a serve.

And if you're an avid NFL fan, you may have noticed that refs seem to have a penchant for throwing their hats, but why do they do that?

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Seriously, why do NFL refs throw their hats?

If you're a gangster, a foiled police officer in a '50s film, or an angry Looney Tunes character, then you'll probably throw your hat on the ground when you've had it just about up to here with whatever you're dealing with.

Why do NFL Refs throw their hats
Source: YouTube/@drivingisfun
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And part of an NFL ref's job is to throw items to signify that a call is being made. Referees will usually make a call based on an in-game transgression from one of the athletes who broke the rules, whether it's a pre-emptive start, pass interference, or any other violation. Sadly, rooting for the Jets doesn't incur any in-game violations, but we can all pray for a future in which the NFL will wisen up.

If you notice, football refs pretty much only throw their hats after they've already thrown a flag in order to signify that there needs to be a stop to play (or, I suppose, that they're really, really upset with what they're seeing on the field). Either way, the hat throw usually comes after a flag is thrown.

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But there's another reason specifically NFL referees throw their hats, per William Petroff's detailed answer in this awesome Quora post: "More often than not, it means that a player has gone out of bounds and is now an ineligible receiver unless they re-establish themselves by taking three steps within the field of play. When that happens, referees throw their hats to mark the spot where the player left the field of play."

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William continued, "Less often, the hat will serve as a back-up penalty marker when multiple penalties occur (the most common occurrence where this is necessary is during a fight), or to mark the spot where the ball should be placed (most often when a punt goes out of bounds)."

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So it serves multiple functional purposes, unlike former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Trenell Russell, who needed to be bribed with cheeseburgers by his teammates just to watch film to prepare for his games.

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How did refs throwing their hats become a practice in the NFL?

You would think that if there were multiple fouls committed in a play, then refs would simply carry around a second or third flag in their pockets. So as for where the practice originated? It's hard to say.

Perhaps a frustrated ref tossed his hat instead of grabbing a flag that it became standard practice. Whatever the case, it's an imperfect practice, but one that has become a regular part of the game.

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