Even though Barry Anderson ’91 wasn’t drafted when his days as a defensive back at NC State were over, he still managed to make it to the NFL. It took him nearly 20 years, and he got there as a referee rather than a player. And that’s close enough for Anderson and his childhood dreams.
“It was another way to be involved with the sport that meant a lot to me,” says Anderson, who recently wrapped up his 14th season as an NFL official. “I still get excited smelling the grass when I walk on the field.”
When Anderson failed to make the NFL as a player, he had no plans to get there as someone wearing black-and-white stripes. But a few years after college, Anderson was married and had a kid on the way. His father-in-law, a college football game referee, suggested officiating as a good way to make some extra money. So Anderson jumped in, officiating everything from pee-wee football to adult fast-pitch softball. He worked his way up the ranks, through high school and college, until the NFL hired him in 2007.
Anderson, who lives in Atlanta, Ga., has a full-time job as an administrator in the courts system. But on weekends in the fall and winter, he travels around the country to make sure NFL teams are playing by the rules. Members of officiating crews have specified roles, and as an umpire, Anderson stands behind the quarterback, with the primary responsibility for keeping an eye on the action taking place between the offensive and defensive lines.
Anderson, 52, also made history this past season as part of the first all-Black officiating crew to work an NFL game, a Monday night contest in November between the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Like anything else, there’s been a lack of opportunities for Blacks to get to certain levels in life,” Anderson says, “To be spotlighted like that was amazing.”