Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:
Robin DeLorenzo, NFL official
Position: Line judge
How did you get your start as an official?
My father, Rich DeLorenzo, had been an official for our high school chapter in New Jersey for 15 years at the time I graduated college. He was one of the teachers in the class for aspiring officials. I was living with my parents and he asked me if I wanted to come to the class, listen in and talk football. I thought I was just going to hang out with my dad, but about five minutes into that class, I looked over at my dad and asked, "Wait, can I do this?" He replied, "I don't see why not." This was about 21 years ago now, and there were no women officiating the game, so frankly, I didn't know if I was even allowed to do it.
There were about 19 of us in the class who ended up taking the test -- all men, of course. They treated me well, and I just fell in love with officiating. I foolishly thought I was going to walk onto my dad's crew because he was a referee, the leader of the officiating crew. He said, "No, you don't know what you're doing yet. You need to learn." He was right, and it took him four years to accept me on his crew. I worked high school football for 14 years, and for 10 of those years, I worked on my dad's crew. Working with him was one of the main reasons I didn't move to college football so quickly; nothing was going to beat working with him.
That is great. Did you have another job at that time? And when did you transition to officiating full-time?
I had many jobs. I was a teacher's assistant, ran background checks and fingerprints for TSA PreCheck, was a bartender and so many other things. I eventually chose football over everything else. I knew I wasn't willing to give up officiating games for any reason. I am a big competitor and all I've ever wanted to be is the very best at the level I was at, just to get to the next level, whether that was junior college, Division III, Division II, Division I and so on. I never looked more than one step up, and honestly, I never dreamed of working in the NFL -- never, not once.
After 11 years of working high school football, I went to college officiating, starting with JUCO and then Division III. I could still work high school games during that time, so I did. When I was promoted to Division II football, I was still able to do high school. Once I got to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision level, I had to retire from high school football because I had to be at the college game site the night before. So, after 14 years of being a high school official, I retired from it in the same game as my dad. It was really special. And as it turns out, we had an opening in our crew that night, and my fiancé, Tom Lezak, just happened to work the position that was open, so he worked that game, too. It was extremely special and a big sendoff for us in our own minds.
I have been a head linesman (now known as down judge in the NFL) throughout my career. After working at the FCS level, I was promoted to the Football Bowl Subdivision and split my time between Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference. Each conference officiating coordinator asked me to work a few games, mainly trying me out at this level. After that year, I had to make a choice of which conference to stay with, and it was one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life. Gerald Austin was the supervisor of Conference USA, and Bill Carollo was at Mid-American and coordinated officials for the Big Ten as well. These two are football royalty. Ultimately, I chose Mid-American and had to make a very difficult phone call to Gerald Austin to thank him for the opportunity. After working for Mid-American for a few years, I was promoted to the Big Ten before being hired by the NFL a few years later.
When you get hired by the NFL, are you sought out for a position or how does that work?
The NFL has a training program -- the Mackie Development Program -- and they find you. They called me the year I split between Conference USA and Mid-American -- which was around 2016, I believe -- and asked me to come interview. I hadn't necessarily processed what the interview could potentially mean down the road, but I took it more as a great opportunity to get training to become a better official. I was all for that. I went to the NFL office in New York City, and met with Al Riveron, Dean Blandino, Wayne Mackie and Gary Slaughter. It was a little surreal. I guess I interviewed well and they liked what they saw on the field. After joining the program, the NFL would invite me to work the NCAA all-star games like the East-West Shrine Bowl, Reese's Senior Bowl or NFLPA Game. It was incredible training.
While you're in the MDP, you're still working the college schedule, and sometimes I would get an email from the NFL saying, "Hey, we saw your game. Here are some tips or things we liked that you did." Those emails came randomly, but I knew I had to always be at my very best because I never knew who was watching.
That's super interesting. Can you walk me through the day when you got the phone call and were promoted to the NFL?
I was working the USFL after just coming off the Big Ten season. I had worked the two greatest college games in the fall of 2021 -- Ohio State-Michigan and the Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma State and Notre Dame. I worked two games each weekend for the USFL and I was on my way home. It was a Monday night and my flight was delayed. My fiancé, Tom, picked me up and I got a FaceTime call from my dad right when I got in the car. First of all, I didn't even know he knew how to use FaceTime. And second, I was so exhausted that I almost didn't answer. Tom told me to answer the phone.
I answer and see my parents in their home, and my dad starts telling some story. I was so tired that I just wanted to call back tomorrow, but he kept talking and finally said, "My friend, Walt Anderson, gave me a call today and wanted me to call you and welcome you into the NFL." Walt, the NFL senior vice president of officiating, knew how important my dad is to my journey and let my dad give me the news. It's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for my family. I will never forget that.
Once he gave me the news, my dad and I just stared at each other crying for about five minutes. I cried the whole way home. I was amazed and happy, and truly amazed at myself. I worked 21 years to achieve something that I didn't even know was a possibility. It was the most magical night.
Wow, what a special moment. What do you remember about your first NFL game?
My first preseason game was the New York Giants versus the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. In my locker room, I put on my NFL hat, which I had worn for minicamps or other things, looked in the mirror, and I got teary eyed. I'm not a very emotional person but I had to take a breath. When I ran out onto the field, my whole family was there and I saw my dad in the stands and just took it all in. That was a moment I'll never forget. I'll be honest, that feeling was there every single time I took the field for a game last year. It is an amazing feeling. Then you get to work.
You're now heading into your second season as an NFL official. Looking back, what are things you wish you knew heading into your first year? What did you learn? And are you preparing differently ahead of Year 2?
The NFL game is very different from the college game, not just the rules but the philosophies, how we're graded as officials and the length of the season. People tell you all of those things, but the length of the season is tremendous. There's no preparing for it, especially when you include training camps and the preseason. They try to prepare you for that, but until you do it, you don't know how taxing it is. Rookie officials aren't eligible to officiate the playoffs, so I knew my last game was in Week 18. What I didn't realize was that it would take me four weeks to recover mentally. Physically I was fine, but mentally, I needed those four weeks to not be on such high alert.
I constantly am reminding myself of that as I head into my second season. I am making sure my body and mind are healthy and ready to do this again. I am an over-preparer, so I don't think my preparation is any different than it was in 2022 as far as rules study and film work. I was a down judge last season but I'm a line judge this year. It's the same job but on the opposite side of the field. I have watched my games from last season probably 200 times. That's no exaggeration. I also have plays on my phone that I watch -- plays that I've done well on and others where I can do better. I look at those constantly when I am on an airplane. You have to love this game to be an official. I took those four weeks after the season and made sure to take them off other than watching the live playoff games. Then I got right back to it after the Super Bowl.
What is one thing you wish NFL fans and players understood about officiating?
How difficult it is. I am also a spectator because I love the game of football. There is rarely a game on television that I'm not watching, even if I'm just cooking dinner or getting a workout in. Sometimes you're watching and wondering how an official missed a call. Then they show the replay and I think, "Oh, they didn't miss that. They did their job extremely well and only got to see it once in real time." There's not just one thing officials are looking for, either. For line of scrimmage officials like me, I think there are around 18 things we are looking at, assessing and making a judgment call on before the snap. It's very easy to sit in your armchair and say we missed this one thing. Because ... did I actually miss that? And if I did, look at all the other things during that play that I nailed. Officiating is such a hard job, and I think a lot of people understand that. But a lot of people don't.
I won't speak for everyone when I say this -- though, I think I probably could: If and when we kick a call, which happens because we're human, no one feels worse than the official. No one. I don't care what anyone says. We can't show the disappointment, but I'll tell you those kicked plays stay with you. Plays that I've kicked over the years, I could list them. I kicked a call in a high school game on Thanksgiving Day in like 2006, so I had already been working five or six years as an official, and turkey still doesn't taste the same. I'm not kidding. When people think they can have an opinion about whether or not I am good, you don't have any opinion that compares to what I think of myself.
Along those lines, how do you deal with public scrutiny?
I don't listen. I don't care what they think of me. I care what my dad thinks. I care what Walt Anderson, my boss, thinks of me. I care immensely what my crew thinks. I care what my fiancé thinks. These people know what I'm supposed to be doing. They have trained and studied ad nauseum what I'm supposed to be doing or my crew is supposed to be doing. Those are the opinions I care about.
How much back and forth is there with players during a game? Is there lobbying or do they ask for clarity on certain plays or calls?
In college football, that never happens. Now, do they go behind me and tell their coach because they want me to hear? Perhaps, but that's OK. In the NFL, it only happens a little bit more. These are professional athletes who know that I'm not just looking at one person. If there is something that I miss, I appreciate when they let me know because I don't take offense to that. I'll write the time and quarter down on my card, and that will be one of the first plays that I go back and watch to see if I missed something.
One final officiating-specific question: What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?
That I can't be perfect. It's impossible. No one has ever worked a perfect game, and as officials, we are such overachievers who want perfectionism. To accept that after all of my preparation and studying, that's really hard.
I can see where that would be challenging. Do you have any mentors and what advice have you received from them?
First and foremost, my dad. He is tougher on me than anyone, which I love. That is what has probably made me who I am. Tom is a college official and works downfield, so the two of us together are constantly looking at plays and discussing the game. He mentors me in a way that I know what the downfield judge is doing, and I'm helping him with what the line of scrimmage official is looking at. Also, Ed Camp, who retired from officiating last year, is a mentor of mine. He knew my father through officiating in New Jersey, and he taught with my dad in the officiating classes. Ed has been with me since Day 1 of my career, and I ended up working the same position he did. In 21 years, I have gotten just one compliment from Ed because it's always about getting better. I respect him so much for that because I can take that one compliment to heart. I was promoted to the NFL when he retired, and I asked if I could take his number. He gave me his blessing to wear No. 134.
And what was the compliment he gave you?
It wasn't even something I did in a play; it was how I dealt with a coach. Ed was watching the game on TV, and there was an issue. The coach was arguing a play or call, and Ed, who of course couldn't hear what we were saying, pointed out my body language and the way I handled the coach being so irate. I calmed him down and explained what the officials had on the play. Ed texted me afterward and told me I did the right thing, getting the coach to calm down, nod and agree with me before he walked away. That was a Mid-American game, and I'll never forget that.
What advice do you have for other women who aspire to be an NFL official?
Put the work in. I would not be as successful as I am without the experiences that I have. The more snaps you can see, the better. I worked 20 years at every level before I got to the NFL. You can learn something different at every level.
What does it mean to you to be the third female hired as an NFL official?
I'm ecstatic. I know a lot of the women coming up in officiating and I know how much potential they have and the potential we have as a gender in this profession. There's no reason we can't be great. There are plenty of men who have never played the game of football who are incredible officials.
It was a tremendous night when I got that call. To be the third woman, I am proud that the NFL has seen what we as women can offer the game.
What's next in terms of what you want to accomplish?
I'm looking to improve my grades. I am working on a different crew this year, and I want to earn their respect. I don't think wanting to earn the respect of my crewmates will ever change from Year 1 or, God-willing, Year 20.
Lastly, what are you most proud of in your career?
The easy answer is making it to the NFL. There are 124 NFL officials in the world, and I am one of them. That is an astronomical feat that I'm not completely sure I have grasped yet. My parents and Tom remind me of that. All of my hard work, preparation, setbacks, jobs I've lost and the things I've missed out on, it got me to the National Football League. I'm just proud of my progress.