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Corporate executive at a bank and Big Ten Conference official – two worlds you wouldn’t think would cross. For LaShell Nelson, they do.
In just 5 years Nelson went from officiating high school football games to being the first Black woman hired as a Big Ten official. She’s also in the NFL’s officiating development program.
In either career, mistakes can be costly, but they’re especially on display when you’re officiating a high stakes football game.
Mistakes will happen, and for Nelson it’s all about going back and learning from them. After games, she says she immediately watches the film and takes note of what she got right, wrong, and the circumstances of each.
As a women working in professional football, she does experience bias and criticism that she’s never played the game. But Nelson knows the game. “It’s the study of the game. Some coaches have never even played,” she says, “and they’re the best coaches in the world.”
Being the first Black woman in Big Ten officiating also comes with a lot of pressure. She says she does thinking about it, but tries not to. “Not even in the Big Ten, in all of my officiating, I try to come in as an official. I don’t want anyone to look at me as a woman, I don’t want anyone to look at me as a Black woman, I want you to look at me as an official. I’m here to manage the game” she says.