Let’s talk about football. Specifically, why do football players lick their fingers? Football players lick their fingers because it makes the ball easier to grip or helps them get a better handle on the ball. It also helps get a better feel for the texture of the ball although it is not legal in the NFL.
But is there any scientific evidence behind this practice?
In fact, there is! It turns out that saliva increases friction between two surfaces which means, essentially, that when you add saliva to a surface, you can increase its traction. And if you’re running on wet grass, you want all the traction you can get. Not just for safety’s sake but also to maintain control of the ball!
So if your team is licking their fingers before playing in a wet environment (or even if they’re not and just doing it instinctively), it’s not crazy: it might actually be helping improve their grip and control of the ball!
Increases grip during wet conditions:
In American football, a good grip is an essential part of the passing and catching process. You don’t want your quarterback to throw the ball and have it fly out of your receiver’s hands because both hands were slick from rain or sweat.
The salt in players’ sweat improves grip while they’re playing, so licking their fingers can help them achieve better control of the ball on rainy days.
However, saliva dries slowly and causes the ball to become slippery, which can be detrimental to players trying to catch passes and/or hold onto the football as they’re running downfield.
So while a lick here or there can help with their grip on a rainy day, it’s not recommended that players overdo it.
To get a better feel for the texture of the ball:
The spit can also help players grip the ball more easily. NFL players use a new ball for every play, so each is more slippery and less tacky than the balls used in practice.
Players lick their fingers to get a better feel for the texture of the ball, which also helps them throw it and catch it effectively.
The saliva makes the leather a little bit sticky. So if you’re throwing and you’ve got spit on your finger, there’s a little bit of stickiness that allows you to have just a little bit more control.
Saliva helps the ball become tacky and sticky:
The saliva helps the ball become tacky and sticky, making it much less slippery. This increases grip for better control of the ball. The player’s fingers are able to get a better handle on the ball and they can feel in their fingertips what they are doing with it.
In addition to helping players grip the ball, saliva makes the ball stickier. It allows players to catch it more easily because there is more friction between their hands and the football.
As well as dampening down the leather surface of a football so that it becomes tacky and sticky, this process also helps make sure that when a quarterback throws an incompletion into his wide receiver’s waiting arms his pass doesn’t slip through his hands!
The salivating also helps reduce slippage on wet weather days or cold weather games where conditions might make holding onto something impossible without some liquid lubrication from mouth moisture or some other source such as sweat.
This is why you see players sucking up their shirts after getting tackled. And finally, this method makes the ball feel softer for those who are catching passes from quarterbacks about to throw them into waiting arms at any moment.
A good grip is essential:
Football is essentially a game of gripping and throwing with your hands, and it’s hard to grip if you’re fingers are slippery or dry. You need a good grip to control the ball as efficiently as possible during passing, catching, running, and even punting.
Players often lick their fingers before they hold the ball because saliva lubricates them and prevents them from being too sticky or too dry. Players might also rub the ball on their clothing or something else that they think is useful (like mud).
Do the NFL fines players for licking their fingers during games?
Yes, the NFL fines players $10,000 for licking their fingers during games. The league considers it a ‘foreign substance’ in a move that has been slammed as ‘insane’.
It’s not a new rule and has been in place for a number of years to prevent players from intentionally using foreign substances to gain an advantage but the league still hands-down fines regardless.
Players can get fined multiple times in a game if they are caught red-handed on numerous occasions.
Why do football players lick their hands?
Football players are deceptively savvy, even if they don’t look like it. They know that the best way to keep their hands dry during a game is to lick them continuously throughout the game.
The most important thing you can do as a football player is to make sure your hands stay dry. When you’re out there in the rain it’s just better to lick your fingers.
Of course, what makes this such an ingenious cultural practice is its simplicity: by licking your hand periodically throughout your playing career you reduce the amount of moisture available on each finger and decrease how much wetness builds up in your palm while running or passing routes.
By keeping yourself dry regardless of outside conditions, whether cold or hot, you’ll be able to perform at the top performance level no matter what state weather conditions are in.
Is it legal?
It’s true that a lot of NFL players lick their fingers during games. However, doing so is against the rules and is considered unsportsmanlike conduct.
In fact, according to the NFL rulebook, if you’re an offensive player who “wipes or picks his nose on the field” or “takes other actions while on the ground” that are not related to a play or substitution, you will be penalized. This includes licking your fingers.
The penalty is five yards which may not seem like much at first glance, but you may recall from your youth athletic days that even moving five yards can make all the difference in a game (especially if it means missing a field goal).
If this hasn’t convinced you that it’s bad form to lick your fingers during NFL games, consider this: players can also be fined for breaking league rules, such as for engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct.
There is no set amount that a player can be fined; instead, fines are determined by many factors including how egregious the violation was and whether it has happened before.
However, fines do have an upper limit: they cannot exceed $10,000 per incident! While $10k might not seem like much to some professional athletes (especially after taxes), I’m guessing you’d think twice about using your tongue when so much money is on the line (no pun intended).
How does it help?
You might as well start licking your index finger right now because you’re about to learn something that will change the way you look at football. It’s a revolutionary truth so groundbreaking that it’ll make you want to lick anything else in your immediate vicinity: football players like their fingers.
This is especially true when it comes to gripping their footballs. By licking their fingers, players are able to better grasp the ball and stay in control amidst the chaos of a high-speed sprint downfield. And while this may seem obvious, it’s not the only factor at work here.
The climate of football stadiums has a lot to do with this phenomenon as well, specifically, how dry they tend to be inside due to air conditioning and climate control systems. This is similar to why baseball players often spit on balls or rub them with saliva to keep them moistened for better grip and feel throughout the game.
This technique can help a player move his hands along the surface of the ball quickly and precisely, making sure he catches every pass that comes his way whether he has gloves on or not.
Not only do many players lick their fingers, but others have gone so far as to incorporate the practice into their regular rituals.
According to former NFL player Matt Bowen, some players even went to the extreme of licking their gloves and face masks before games.
For those who weren’t on board with such an extreme way of lubricating their hands, they would find more subtle ways to get a good grip.
Josh Levin writes about how some players would lick their thumbs so that they could get better traction on the ball during play.
In addition to being a part of some players’ game-day rituals, it was also reported that several former players were fined for licking their fingers while playing in games. The fines included:
- $7,500 for James Harrison from Pittsburgh Steelers (2006)
- $12,500 for Kirk Morrison from Oakland Raiders (2007)