Lo van Pham makes NFL history, becoming the first Asian-American official.
His unique journey to the NFL and the football world starts 8,000 miles away in South Vietnam. Pham was born in 1973 in southwestern Laos in a town called Pakse.
Although he was too young to remember, with details filled in later by his parents, Pham, his parents and his two brothers survived traveling through the jungles in Vietnam.
“I’m just amazed we even survived that journey,” Pham said to USA TODAY. “We were always on the move. We didn’t know where we were. We just kind of went where they told us to go. And then when we came to America, the one thing my parents always stressed was education, that education would lead us to a better opportunity.”
His parents, with three young children in tow, abandoned the mechanic shop they owned and fled from the Viet Cong who were coming from the north.
Then for three years they bounced between refugee camps in Laos, Thailand and the Philippines. In 1979 at seven years old, his family won a lottery run by Catholic missionaries that allowed them to start anew in Amarillo, Texas.
Pham first started playing football as a kid and continued playing through high school. Although he dreamed of playing in the NFL, growing up watching the Cowboys, that idea never worked out. Instead, he earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Texas Tech.
When he was pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Colorado he wanted to stay connected, so he decided to start officiating.
“I missed being around sports,” Pham said to USA TODAY. “I was a working young man. I was an engineer working for a design firm and I was like, ‘Man, I’m bored. I need something to do with my Saturdays and Sundays.’”
He gained officiating experience training with a high school association before moving to the college level. After coming from the Big 12 conference, he’ll work as a side judge in the NFL, along with 9 other new officials.
“I never dreamed about being the first of anything. It’s just a great honor. People reaching out to me, reminding me of how special this is, and I just want to do the right thing and carry whatever message I need to carry to represent not only our Asian culture and Asian friends, but also really to represent all minorities, whether Middle Eastern, just different backgrounds, different people that are out there,” van Pham said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “I want to communicate to convey the fact that if you work hard, prepare yourself, commit and do the things that you can control, your desires and your passion will carry you to the next level in whatever endeavor you choose.”
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