Alberto Riveròn was working at a parks program and coaching in a recreational football league when a friend invited him to attend a meeting for officials. Thirty years later, Riveròn is the NFL's first Hispanic referee.
Riveròn began officiating at the college level in 1990. He served as a field judge and side judge for the Big East in the early '90s and as a referee in the Big East and later in Conference USA. The latter is where Riveròn was identified to move up to the pros.
Former NFL referee Gerald Austin, who supervised Riveròn at Conference USA, asked him if he would like to apply his skills on the professional level in NFL Europe. One of a few referees who took this challenge, Riveròn worked in Europe for six years. In 2004, the NFL hired him as an official, spending his first four years as a side judge. At the end of the 2007 season, Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice president of officiating, promoted Riveròn to referee.
"Al Riveròn was a great referee in college," Pereira said. "We brought in Al to be a referee in this league, but we wanted him to get a lay of the NFL land, so we put him as a deep sideline person for the three or four years. He offers us that referee experience he has always had. And we are terrifically happy to have our first Hispanic referee. We think it's just great."
Riveròn was born in Cuba and he and his mother came over to the United States in January of 1966 when he was five years old. They settled in South Florida, where he currently resides with his wife and two sons. Riveròn balances his Hispanic heritage with his American upbringing, embracing both and instilling pride in the full identity in his sons.
"While I am as American as the next guy," Riveròn said, "I feel a part of the Cuban culture and I am very proud of it. I told Mike (Pereira), 'Next year, when I am fortunate enough to be on TV, I don't want to be called 'Al,' I want to be called 'Alberto.' Roll the 'r.' Am I going to be proud of being the first Hispanic referee? Of course I am."
Riveròn has also made NFL history by so far being the only NFL official to work both regular-season games outside of the United States. Last season, he officiated the first regular-season NFL game outside of North America when the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins in London's Wembley Stadium. In 2005, Riveròn served on the crew that worked the game in Mexico City when the Arizona Cardinals hosted the San Francisco 49ers in front of 103,438 fans.
"When I go on the sidelines I talk to everybody. Being in Mexico, carrying on with the fans in Spanish, they were in awe. I think I was in almost as many pictures that day as the Commissioner was," Riveròn said. "It was great promoting America's game in a language that the people there understood. I had a blast."
"There is nothing greater in the world when you go to Germany or Mexico and you see a little German or Mexican boy or girl wearing a Donovan McNabb shirt with the Eagles logos all over it," he added. "To me that's unbelievable. That shows how well this league is doing globally. To see it in Mexico was great."