The Penalty Flag’s History…Did You Know?

By Bruce Maurer

This article is a guest post by Jerry Peters, an OHSAA football official. Enjoy!

“Field laundry”, “the yellow rag” or my favorite “a referee’s hanky” these are all nick-names of the yellow penalty flag each Zebra of the gridiron carries at least one of for every game. But just where did the penalty flag come from? The idea for the penalty flag came from Youngstown State football coach Dwight Beede. It was first used in a game against Oklahoma City University on October 17, 1941. However, official adoption of the use of the flag occurred at the 1948 American Football Coaches rules session. In the NFL, NCAA, Arena, high school and flag football the penalty flag is yellow. In Canada the penalty flag used by officials is orange. Until 1965 most penalty flags were white in color, in college penalty flags were red until the mid-1970’s. Prior to the use of flags in 1941 for the game at Yougstown State officials normally used only whistles and horns to signal a penalty had occurred. It wasn’t until September 17, 1948 that NFL officials used flags when the Green Bay Packers played the Boston Yanks. In today’s game NFL and Arena coaches use red flags to challenge rule interpretations.

The cloth is weighted with either beans or sand. Prior to 1999 BBs were also used by some manufacturers to weight the yellow cloth. This was discontinued after an incident in where a thrown flag hit a player in the eye in an NFL game. The injury left the player sitting out for three seasons.

So this season when you reach down to throw your flag… remember the flag has a long history and it all started right here in Ohio in a little town named Youngstown and it was a coach not an official who first thought of it!

By Jerry Peters