A league source said the NFL is reviewing an alleged autograph interaction between two referees and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, which was captured on video by a Carolina Panthers beat author and posted on Twitter following the sport.
Within the two interactions on a pair of separate videos, referees Tripp Sutter and Jeff Lamberth may be seen handing Evans a chunk of paper and a writing utensil, at which point each stands by individually as Evans appears to put in writing something down before handing the paper back to them. The was filmed by Panthers beat author Sheena Quick, who posted each to her Twitter account following the Panthers’ 21-3 win over the Buccaneers.
The collective bargaining agreement has a provision between the NFL and NFL Referees Association which regulates the conduct of officials and prohibits them from directly “ask[ing] players, coaches or every other team personnel for autographs or memorabilia.” Nevertheless, officials can seek autographs with direct requests through the league’s officiating department.
While it wasn’t clear what Evans was writing on the paper given to him, Lamberth might be heard calling to Evans on one video, with Sutter then handing the receiver a chunk of paper and a writing utensil. Quick posted a second video where a referee waited as Evans was writing on something in his hands.
A league source with many years of experience as each an NFL player and a longtime executive told Yahoo Sports he wasn’t aware of anything a player could be required to sign for officials in a postgame tunnel or anywhere else.
“I don’t think that’s procedural,” the source said. “… I don’t know of a situation where Mike Evans would need to sign something.”
The NFL is reviewing an alleged autograph interaction between two referees and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, which was captured on video by a Carolina Panthers beat author and posted on Twitter following the sport. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Because the video made the rounds through the NFL on Monday, it drew some verbal groaning from some team executives and coaches who had the tweets and video shared with them. All agreed the interaction was not a standard occurrence in a postgame tunnel between a player and officials.
“Poor look,” one AFC general manager said. “I’ve never seen that.”
“Never [seen that] in all my 12 months’s within the league,” an NFC general manager said.
The grousing was more eye-rolling than anyone calling out a legitimate integrity concern, with a number of executives also expressing that they didn’t see it as a giant deal. But most agreed that for a league at all times frightened about optics — and positively concerned with how officiating is perceived — the interaction might have been handled higher no matter whether it was an autograph request or the rest.
A report by Football Zebras, an outlet with a protracted and detailed track record of covering NFL officials, posted a response from a source accustomed to the league’s investigation on Monday that claimed Evans was not asked for an autograph. Nevertheless, the source declined to say what Evans was writing or why he was asked to put in writing it.
“The optics are obviously not good,” the source told Football Zebras. “The league has photos of the cardboard. I’ll allow them to say what they need about their investigation. Lamberth didn’t get an autograph. Sutter is wholly innocent, just doing what was asked of him by a crew mate, not understanding fully what was happening.”
In line with the positioning, the source said Evans was signing a card that game officials use to trace different points of knowledge, including timeouts, game captains, fouls and other data. But the positioning said it was irregular for Evans to sign such a card.
“There is no such thing as a routine that requires Evans, as a team captain, to sign or fill out anything for the officials,” the report said. “If there may be a legitimate purpose to acquire information from Evans — comparable to contact information for a charity event within the offseason, hypothetically — that is best handled through the officiating department and team officials.”