Where Does The Money Go When A Professional Athlete Gets Fined?

Lately, it seems like pro athletes (and/or their teams) are never not being fined for something. From confusing policy enforcement in the NFL to excessive fines for incorrectly reporting injuries in the NBA, fines in professional sports have been increasing by millions of dollars each year. According to the NFL, the 2023 season had 419 on-field plays that resulted in fines, and estimates put the total amount in fines for the season upward of $20 million. This is a noticeable increase from the 2022 season, which recorded just 166 infractions for the entire season. So, as the number of fines, and the amount of money collected, increases, you might be asking yourself just where this money goes.

While one option is charity, you might be surprised to learn that not all leagues are as charitable as others. In particular, transparency about where, exactly, fine money goes widely varies depending on the league. From player funds to charity to directly into the league's pocket, there's no one-size-fits-all for how major league sports handle fines or the profits they inevitably lead to. While some could argue excessive fines of professional athletes serve the league, especially if those fines are serving profit margins, a counter point would be that the NFL is by far the biggest enforcer of player fines but is also one of the most transparent organizations about where that money goes. While there's no end to the debate over money in sports (or about how much people are spending on sports betting) here's where each major league's sports fines go.


The Indianapolis Colts were the most-fined NFL team in 2023, racking up $4,379,497 in fines over the course of the season. This was despite fans and commentators alike disagreeing with the increase in punishments for non-fine-worthy actions. Perhaps the only good news about the increase in fines during the season is that the NFL is fairly transparent about where, exactly, that money goes (and it's toward programs benefiting players). The NFL divides up its collected fine money between the NFL Foundation, a nonprofit contributing to football communities through youth leagues, grant programs, and safety and coaching education, and the Professional Athletes Foundation, which helps prior NFL players and their families who are in need. So while NFL fines might be steep (they start at $5,464 for small uniform mistakes), at least they're going to a good cause.

The NBA is the next-highest league in terms of fines. The 2023-24 season saw the NBA issue over $7,867,890 worth of fines across 844 different players. Half of the fine money collected by the NBA goes to the National Basketball Players Association Foundation while the other half goes back to the league. Both organizations then distribute that money through various philanthropic efforts. Lyzz Ogunwo, vice president of International Development and Global Impact at the NBPA, told NBC Sports that players who have played in the NBA for at least three years can request matching grants to their selected nonprofits. In 2023, the NBPA Foundation distributed an estimated $2.5 million to charitable causes through 141 different grants.


The National Hockey League handles fines differently than other major sports in that it applies fine penalties based purely on salary. Depending on in-game penalties, a player can be fined up to 50% of their average salary for the single day the infraction takes place. However, the 50% amount cannot exceed $10,000 for the first fine, or $15,000 for any subsequent fine within a 12-month calendar year (as opposed to per season). It's also worth noting that an NHL player's single-day pay depends on the number of days in the season (the 2023-24 season had 190 days). All of the NHL's collected fine money goes into the NHL Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

Perhaps the least upfront sports entity when it comes to player and/or team fines is Major League Baseball. Unlike other sports that have explicit policies in their governing rules, MLB has nothing specific. This means that any money the league collects from fines throughout a season generally goes back into Major League Baseball's general fund. Yet, this fund isn't particularly transparent so it's difficult to know with certainty where that fine money might end up. Occasionally the league can and will flag specific fines for certain charities, but it's entirely at the discretion of the team and/or league. The lack of transparency with MLB funding is increasingly being scrutinized, especially as the league continues to demand public funding for new stadiums and teams. With that in mind, it's worth noting that MLB typically has far fewer fines than other sports.