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Lo van Pham honored to be first Asian American official

Lo van Pham’s journey to the NFL began when he fell in love with the sport upon arriving in Texas after living in refugee camps with his family.

More than 40 years later, van Pham is set to become the first Asian American to officiate in the NFL.

“I never dreamed of being the first of anything,” van Pham said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “It’s just a great honor. People are reaching out to me, reminding me how special this is, and I just want to do the right thing and deliver the message that I need to deliver to represent not only our Asian culture and our Asian friends, but also truly to represent all minorities, whether it’s the Middle East, just different backgrounds, different people who are there. I want to communicate to convey the fact that if you work hard, prepare, commit and do the things you can control, your desires and passion will take you to the next level in any endeavor you you will choose.

Before being introduced to football in America, van Pham, his parents and two brothers survived by traveling through the jungles of South Vietnam and bouncing around in refugee camps in Laos, Thailand and the Philippines for around three years. . He was too young to remember much of this experience, but his parents informed him as he grew older.

“They were telling me how, obviously, it was dirty, how dirty it was,” van Pham said. “But other than that, I remember my first night here in America, we stayed in some kind of makeshift hospital where they put us up for the first few weeks until we got our feet on the ground.”

Van Pham, 49, grew up surrounded by Dallas Cowboys fans in Amarillo, Texas. He started playing football as a child and continued through high school. He turned to officiating to stay connected to the sport while pursuing graduate studies at the University of Colorado.

“When I signed up, it was kind of out of boredom and love for the game,” he said. “I remember telling my friends what I was doing, their first comment: ‘Are you crazy? Are you crazy? You have better things to do on a Saturday and a Sunday.

“I actually love it. It’s what I grew up playing, and I love this game. And from there, it made me want to improve.”

Van Pham attended clinics and umpire camps after returning to Texas from Colorado. He trained with a high school association and developed his skills as an official.

Van Pham joins the NFL after the Big 12 conference. He will work as a secondary judge while maintaining his day job because officials are not full-time employees. Van Pham’s background is civil structural engineering.

“Since I’ve been in Power Five football, most of my friends seem to think football is really my full-time job, and my real job is my part-time job,” he said.

The NFL has 121 on-field playing officials, 49 of whom are women or minorities.

Being a father is van Pham’s favorite job; he and his wife, Kelly, have two sons, ages 7 and 2.

“They keep me humble,” he said. “They remind me what my job is, that’s No. 1, being a father. It is the most important thing to be a father and to be a good husband.


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