The NFL has determined that a pair of gameday officials did not request an autograph from Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans Sunday following a game against the Carolina Panthers.
“After speaking with the individuals involved, we have confirmed that the postgame interaction between Jeff Lamberth, Tripp Sutter, and Mike Evans did not involve a request by the game officials for an autograph,” the NFL said Tuesday in a statement. “Both Lamberth and Sutter have been reminded of the importance of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety when interacting with players, coaches, and club staff on gameday – including during the pregame and postgame time periods.”
Following Carolina’s 21-3 victory at home during Week 7, as Buccaneers players headed through the tunnel just after the game ended, reporter Sheena Quick filmed a moment when side judge Lamberth and line judge Sutter stopped Evans as he was headed toward the locker room. One of the officials can be heard calling to Evans, who turned around. Lamberth appeared to grab a pen and something to write on from Sutter before he handed it to Evans, who then appeared to write on it.
On Monday, NFL senior vice president of football and international communications Michael Signora had confirmed to USA TODAY Sports in an email that the league would be reviewing the matter. NFL Network was the first to report the news Monday of the review.
“I wasn’t signing my autograph, I can say that,” Evans told reporters Tuesday during a press conference. “I talk to a lot of officials. We’re all human beings. He’s a nice guy. We were just talking about golf — that’s all we were talking about.”
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NFL Network reported that both Evans and Lamberth went to Texas A&M and that Lamberth was asking to get Evans’ phone number so that he could pass it along to a golf pro for prospective golf lessons. Per the report, Lamberth didn’t have a piece of paper, so he asked Sutter for one.
According to the seven-year collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association that was ratified Sept. 28, 2019, members of an officiating crew “shall not… ask players, coaches or any other team personnel for autographs or memorabilia.”
That language appears in Appendix E, Section IV of the document, which states that “Game Officials must even avoid the appearance of profiting or personally benefitting from their association with the NFL, other than from compensation provided under the NFLRA Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
The CBA does allow for officials to obtain player autographs or team memorabilia or merchandise “for personal or charitable purposes” but mandates that those requests go through the league’s officiating department “and never to a player or team employee directly.”
The NFL did not offer any additional details Tuesday on the purpose of Lamberth and Sutter’s request.
Per Pro Football Reference, Lamberth has been an official for 20 seasons, starting in 2002, though he was not active for the 2011 season. Sutter is in his fourth season as an official and has been with the league since 2019.
A message sent to the NFL Referees Association requesting comment was not immediately returned.
Evans caught nine passes for 96 yards in the game, but dropped what would’ve been a 64-yard touchdown in the first quarter when he was wide open but had the pass glance off his hands.