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Wires and gadgets are part of the NFL official’s uniform

NFL officials are wired up to an array of devices



NFL officials wear several pieces of equipment out on the field, draped around their neck, wrapped around their wrists and fingers and hooked on their belt. In the last 10 years, NFL officials are hooked up to several wireless devices to help them do their jobs.

Every NFL official takes the field with official-to-official radios, known as “O2O.” Hooked to their belt is the radio battery pack and a push-to-talk button. The button is round and about the size of a pager, so the official can feel for the button and push to talk without having to fumble around looking to key their microphone. The wires run from their belt up under their shirt and connect to the earpiece and microphone.

College football officials wear a pager on their belts so they know when the replay official “buzzes in” to stop action to review the last play. NFL replay, after removing the pagers in 2014, uses the O2O system to shut down a play or to confirm a touchdown or turnover. The command center in New York also can patch into the O2O.

Each official has tracking devices held down by buttons and tucked under their shirt collars. The devices measure the official’s physical exertion. The officials get a report after the game thanks to that data. The report also helps the officials plan a recovery regimen for after the game.

That is a lot of wires for officials to connect, run under their shirts and clip to their belts with their flag and beanbag.

But, the referee wears even more electronic paraphernalia. The referee has a microphone for public address and TV announcements. The mic is attached to his lapel and the wire runs under his shirt and connects to the on/off toggle switch. The toggle switch connects to a battery pack. The referee wears a second battery pack on his belt in case for first battery pack fails.

Referee announcements have come a long way in 38 years

In the past the NFL attached a microphone to the umpire to pick up the audio flavor of the game which gave the umpire another wire and battery pack to wear. I don’t think the NFL has the umpire wired for sound anymore.

This year, we have seen college football and Canadian Football League officials wear a “hat cam” that shows TV viewers what it’s like on the field. There is an extra pouch in the back of the hat that carries the battery pack and transmitter and the camera is on the bill of the cap. It is a strange look, but an official told me he wore it without any discomfort. We haven’t seen this at the NFL level yet, but I’m sure it’s coming with the next union contract. 

What started is a simple wireless microphone on the referee in 1975 has evolved into each official wearing several electronic devices to help them call a better game. It must be quite an intricate wiring operation before the game and quite a mess to untangle after the game!

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"