NFL sees its first Cherokee referee in Phillips
Cherokee Nation citizen Jerrod Phillips, a National Football League official, picks up his penalty flag during a game. Phillips started his career officiating high school, junior high and little league games before making his way to the professional level. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Jerrod Phillips holds a football while talking to players during a game between the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys in 2016, his first year as a NFL official. COURTESY
GROVE – Cherokee Nation citizen Jerrod Phillips has made a career on the football field at the professional level, not as a player but as a National Football League official.
After graduating from Jay High School in 1993, Phillips started officiating for extra money while attending Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where he received a teaching degree.
“I started in football and basketball for gas money to go to college. I did high school and junior high and little league from probably (19)93 to 2006. Then in 2007 I started officiating junior college football,” Phillips said.
In 2009, he began a whirlwind of officiating jobs at the college football Division 1 level by working in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics, Southland, Mountain West and Big 12 conferences.
In 2015, he got a phone call from New York to interview for a NFL job.
“I worked there for 2016 and 2017. I just completed my second year. I was fortunate enough to work the division round playoff game this year between Tennessee and New England. So everything kind of happened pretty fast after 2009,” he said.
Before officiating full time, Phillips taught and coached at Jay and Grove public schools for 15 years. He said it wasn’t fair to his students that he missed so much school due to officiating. “It turned out to be I was just on the road too much and not able fulfill my obligation in the classroom. I didn’t feel right with a substitute there about 60 percent of the time. It wasn’t right for the kids.”
Though Phillips is a NFL official, he still works the collegiate level, helping with spring camps and clinics. He said officiating has become year-round work. “Whether it’s college, and then you jump right into when the NFL things will start, that’s usually around the first part of April. You go from the spring college things right into the NFL stuff. No rest.”
He said as far as he knows he’s the only Cherokee who is a NFL official.
“I’ve been given credit as the first and really only Cherokee citizen to officiate football in the NFL. Now there are other referees that have slight degrees of Indian blood,” he said. “Whenever I go places, whenever I meet people, the first they want to know is what tribe are you? Where are you from? It’s been a real honor to get to go around and talk to people about the Cherokee Nation and being a part of such a big, big group of people.”
He said he’s met a lot of interesting people who have helped him, including fellow NFL official Walt Anderson and college supervisor Phil Laurie. “Every little step you take, you find somebody new and interesting that’s willing to help, and I just been fortunate enough to be involved with the right people.”
Phillips also credits his family for their support and understanding of his job. He said his wife Alisha; sons Trent, Ty and Brady; grandson Kobe; and his mother and father Wanda and Buddy Phillips all gave him their support for his “life-changing experience.”
“It took some adjustments for the first couple of years because life has changed,” he said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s allowed me and my wife and kids and everybody the opportunity to travel. I really like the travel and getting out to see and meet new people.”