There are a number of reasons why professional athletes may receive monetary fines from their league. In many cases it can be because a player had broken the rules or put the safety of another player at risk. For instance, the San Francisco 49ers' Ahmad Brooks was fined $16,000 in November 2013 for tackling New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees above the shoulders. Brooks' tackle struck Brees in the neck area, way outside the acceptable zone between the knees and the shoulders.
Fines can also occur when players get upset with officials. Arguing calls can result in unwanted attention from officials and players can even get fined for removing or throwing their helmets.
In other cases, a player can be fined for going against certain NFL protocols like wearing improper apparel. For instance, players can only wear NFL apparel for post-game interviews. The Cincinnati Bengals' Jon Kitna was fined $5,000 for wearing a cap with a cross on it during a post-game interview in 2003. However, the fine was rescinded following a backlash among people who shared Kitna's religious values.
The money collected from these fines goes to various charitable organizations supported by the NFL. It also goes towards covering many health-related expenses that former NFL players often have to deal with. Therefore, if a player ends up harming someone excessively or wears something that wasn't pre-cleared with the NFL beforehand, he could end up paying a good deal of money.
What's more is that players with bad reputations can be fined more than others. This is particularly applicable for repeat offenders who get nailed for the same actions several times.
The largest fines in the NFL's history are reflective of just how expensive it can be to break the rules in this league, regardless of whether it was from overly violent play or from something that might seem minuscule to us as spectators.
10 Ndamukong Suh - Detroit Lions - 2013 (week 6) - $31,500 Fine
Ndamukong Suh has been criticized by both the media and the other NFL athletes for being a dirty player. He has been fined seven times for a total of around $200,000 since entering the league in 2010. In one game in 2013, he tackled Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden in an excessive manner. The tackle was considered to be reckless and as a result Suh was fined $31,500. He's also been fined for questionable hits on Jake Delhomme and Andy Dalton.
9 Ryan Clark - Pittsburgh Steelers - 2011 - $40,000 Fine
Ryan Clark received $55,000 in fines in just two games in 2011. In the first incident, he tackled the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski after he went out of bounds and was fined $15,000. In his very next game he was fined $40,000 against the Baltimore Ravens after leading with his helmet while tackling Ed Dickson. Some defend Clark, arguing that he was trying to lead with his shoulder and simply didn't have time to move his head.
8 Brandon Meriweather - New England Patriots - 2010 - $40,000 Fine
Brandon Meriweather committed a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Baltimore Ravens' Todd Heap during a 2010 game, resulting in a $50,000 penalty (later reduced to $40,000 upon appeal). The incident led to the NFL announcing that it would suspend players for such hits in the future. The next year, Meriweather committed another such hit while playing for the Chicago Bears but was this time fined only $20,000. He received another fine of $25,000 later in the year for a late hit on the Lions' Nate Burleson.
7 Ed Reed - Baltimore Ravens - 2012 (week 3) - $50,000 Fine
Ed Reed was fined $50,000 for a vicious hit on the New England Patriots' Deion Branch early in the 2012 season. The tackle struck Branch in the neck and head area and Reed was granted a one game suspension following an extensive investigation of his career which found that he had committed several similar actions in the past. The game suspension was eventually overturned but Reed still had to pay the initial fine of $50,000.
6 Ed Reed - Baltimore Ravens - 2012 (week 16) - $55,000 Fine
Just a few weeks after his previously mentioned suspension was overturned, Ed Reed executed yet another tackle to the head and neck of a player. This time around, the victim was New York Giants' wide receiver Victor Cruz. Reed was fined $55,000 because of his repeat offender status. Still, Reed was never suspended for the hit and was able to play all the way up to the Ravens' Super Bowl championship.
5 Warren Sapp - Oakland Raiders - 2007 - $75,000 Fine
During a game against Jacksonville, the Raiders' Warren Sapp got upset after an official assumed that the Raiders would decline a Jaguars penalty. Sapp got extremely aggravated with the official and stated to yell and curse at him. The ref even argued that Sapp bumped into him. Sapp was called for three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and fined $75,000. Derrick Burgess, one of his teammates, also got into the fold and was fined $25,000 for his single penalty.
4 John Lynch - Denver Broncos - 2007 - $75,000 Fine
John Lynch was fined for the fourth time in his career in 2007 after a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Indianapolis Colts' Dallas Clark. The $75,000 fine was so high because of Lynch's prior track record. There was also a visible intent on Lynch's part to commit such a violent hit. Clark suffered from a concussion as a result and was bleeding from his mouth after the contact. Lynch was fined $7,500 for each of his three previous fines.
3 Darren Woodson - Dallas Cowboys - 2002 - $75,000 Fine
Darren Woodson was fined $75,000 for a hit on the Seattle Seahawks' Darrell Jackson during the later moments of a Cowboys-Seahawks game in 2002. This helmet-to-helmet hit caused Jackson a concussion and he suffered a seizure not long after the game. Woodson's hit and the subsequent fine and personal foul penalty he received helped the Seahawks advance to complete a game-winning field goal a few minutes later.
2 Bryan Cox - Chicago Bears - 1996 - $87,500 Fine
Bryan Cox was known for being an emotional player. While playing for the Miami Dolphins in 1993, he used an obscene gesture against Bills fans during a Buffalo road game. In 1996, his first year in Chicago, he made another obscene gesture and also cursed at an official and threw his helmet in disgust over a call during a game. This led to him being ejected and then fined a whopping $87,500 for his bad attitude.
1 Ndamukong Suh - Detroit Lions - 2013 (week 1) - $100,000 Fine
Ndamukong Suh, whose behaviour we explored earlier in this list, was fined $100,000 in 2013 after committing a low block on Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan. The NFL interpreted the block as a serious risk to Sullivan's knees. The league decided to fine Suh $100,000 primarily because he was such a repeat offender. To make things worse, the penalty negated the interception and touchdown return from the Lions' DeAndre Levy on the same play.
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