After the Browns lost last week to the Seahawks, Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens opted not to discuss officiating.
"I got a memo the other day," Kitchen said. I am not commenting on it. You guys saw the game."
He's not the only one who got the memo. On October 11 (two days before the Seahawks-Browns game), all coaches, General Managers, team presidents, and chiefs executive received a memo from the league. PFT has obtained a copy of it.
The memo made it clear that the NFL prohibits "[c]riticism of officiating which includes, but is not limited to, the following: Comments regarding the quality of officiating, individual calls or missed calls, the League's officiating department, an officiating crew, or an individual game official; [a]ccusing game officials of acting with bias or in any way questioning the integrity of NFL game officials; or [p]osting negative or derogatory/demeaning content pertaining to officiating on social media."
The memo also explained that private communications from the league office to individual teams regarding officiating should not be disclosed, that verbal and other non-physical abuse of game officials is prohibited, and that public criticism of opponents or opposing coaches cannot occur.
"Violations of these policies will result in prompt disciplinary action by the League office, which may include fines of the club and/or individual who make such public comments," the memo explains. "Egregious and inflammatory public comments could result in the suspension of the individual(s) making the comment."
It was the second notice sent this season.
And the league showed that it meant what it said this week, fining Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield for criticizing officials after last week's game and also fining Rams linebacker Clay Matthews for a tweet posted after last Monday night's officiating debacle that saw Matthews' old team secure an ill-gotten win over Detroit. It was the first time any player was fined for criticizing officials since 2016, when Washington cornerback Josh Norman lost $25,000 over saying "you suck" in reference to an official.
As a league spokesman said at the time, "I can't recall the last time a player was fined" for criticizing officials.
That definitely has changed. Whether silencing internal dissent at a time when the league's officiating function is under siege represents the best approach remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether more officiating problems arise this weekend, and whether more players will throw caution to the wind and ultimately make an involuntary contribution to the charities supported by the thousands of dollars in fines that the league imposes on an ongoing basis.