Johnny Grier, the NFL’s First Black Referee

Johnny Grier

For as long as there has been American football, there have been referees. Some of them become famous for their many appearances on TVs and jumbotrons. However, through the many years of officiating football games, it wasn't until 1981 that the NFL hired its first black referee. 
Johnny Grier grew up around the world of football, even becoming a referee for high school games in 1965 at the age of 18. Seven years later, Grier was able to make the jump to college football. In 1981, Grier was brought in by the NFL to work as a field judge, according to the New York Times.

During his time in the NFL, Grier was even given the esteemed position of field judge at Super Bowl XXII. In 1988, Grier was promoted to the status of a referee. While speaking to Ebony Magazine about his career, however, Grier stated plainly about the nature of his new position, "The first time I make a call that goes against somebody that they don’t like, I’m going to be just another referee."

In March 2022, Grier died at the age of 74. He left behind a legacy of opening doors to the current referees of color that work in the NFL today, as well as his own loving family.