NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson handed out the discipline after meeting with Sanders last week.
Sanders initially played coy in public comments about the incident, but in recent weeks has said the matter was being handled internally.
Also fined on Friday by the league were Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura and Packers tight end Ryan Taylor, $21,000 each; Titans safety Michael Griffin, $20,000; Raiders cornerback Tyvon Branch, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, and Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves, $15,750 each; Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe, $10,000; Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, Colts cornerback Cassius Vaughn, and Steelers safety Will Allen, $7,875 apiece.
Anderson said it found no evidence the Steelers, on an organization-wide basis, were instructing or condoning the faking of injuries for competitive purposes.
“If I believed that to be the case, the discipline would be substantially more,” Anderson said. “Instead, it reflects the commissioner’s strong view that it is the responsibility of the club to insure that its players are familiar with and in compliance with the league’s competitive rules.”
In an open letter to Sanders and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, Anderson cited video evidence to the contrary of Sanders‘ contention that he was in severe pain while lying on the ground, before or after the play.
“The video of the play shows Sanders running swiftly and effortlessly toward the punted ball, and then leaving the field with no sign of discomfort,” Anderson wrote. “Sanders also played the rest of the game without difficulty.”
The NFL sent out a memo to team general managers and coaches in September that said, “The Competition Committee deprecates feigning injuries.” The league reiterated it had the power to fine players, coaches or teams or even take away draft picks.
This is the first punishment the league has handed out for faking an injury.
When asked two days before his meeting with the league if he thought the NFL had a problem with faking, Sanders said “Not that I know of.”
The NFL pointed out the idea of faking injuries has been “frequently discussed” by the league’s competition committee but acknowledged the difficulties in enforcement. With player safety a hot-button issue, the NFL does not want to encourage legitimately injured players to leave the field unnecessarily.