In the world of sports, most Cuba to America success stories reside in Major League Baseball. But Alberto Riveron’s story lives in the National Football League. Riveron fled the communist island alongside his mother at a mere five years old. As he established a life here in the United States, Riveron developed a passion for football. In 1977 he followed that passion and started by refereeing youth league games as a side job, by 1990 he was officiating games on the college gridiron. In 2004 Riveron graduated to the NFL, hired to be a side judge and in 2008 a promotion would make history. In a league with just over 120 officials Riveron became the NFL’s first Latino referee.
But That’s Not Where It Ends
In 2013, Riveron’s next promotion took him off the field and put him directly in the league’s office in New York City. His new job title was Senior Director of Officiating in which he worked under the NFL’s Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino who’s also a former referee. Last month Blandino resigned from his position after four years on the job. On May 10th, the NFL announced that Riveron was promoted as Blandino’s replacement. Now while the league has a history of Latino executives within individual teams, executives within the league office are almost non-existent. Especially those within a high level such as the one that Riveron now occupies.
As a side judge Riveron made his own decisions but could be overruled by a supervising referee at any time. As a referee Riveron was in charge of his own crew, had the final say on calls on the field, was in charge of reviewing instant replays, but ultimately answered to people such as Blandino. However, now that Riveron is at the top of the proverbial officiating food chain, he oversees the leagues 124 on-field officials. Now he answers directly to just one man – the commissioner Roger Goodell.
The Ultimate Shot Caller
Lest you think Riveron is simply pushing paper behind a desk in a fancy New York City office, think again. As the Vice President of Officiating, Riveron’s new job means:
1. Having the final say on all questionable instant replay reviews.
2. Explaining why certain decisions were made by officials to the media.
3. Explaining and detailing the rules of the game to the media and fans as needed.
4. Oversee the hiring of new officials.
5. Implementing new rules and rule changes instituted by the commissioner and league owners.
One downside to this job is that it comes with plenty of scrutiny. When Blandino was at the helm he faced plenty of heat from the media, fans and the vitriol that has become commonplace on social media. And that was on top of the occasional discontent that came from players and coaches. While nobody could ever be perfect at their jobs, the entitlement of NFL teams and fans would make you think otherwise when it comes to officials and tough calls. If Riveron’s skin wasn’t thick enough from his years of wearing the zebra stripes, it’ll have to be even thicker this time around.
Riveron’s ascension comes at a time when the league’s Hispanic fan base continues to see annual growth. Perhaps having a Latino in one of the highest positions in the league can help fuel that continued growth. Having an executive who speaks both English and Spanish fluently definitely helps in that regard. Alberto Riveron has already proven himself to be a pioneer and a history maker in this sport. Now he must take that success and innovation to the next level.