Former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit has been selected by NASO as the inaugural recipient of the Inspire Award. The award will be presented at the 2021 NASO Summit in Grand Rapids, Mich., due to the 2020 Summit postponement. Markbreit, the 2007 Gold Whistle recipient, had a 23-year NFL officiating career spanning 461 games and four Super Bowls. Currently, he works as a trainer focusing on officials in the Big Ten, Mid-American and Missouri Valley conferences. Prior to that, Markbreit worked as an assistant supervisor and trainer in the NFL office.

“I was honored, and it made me feel very good,” Markbreit said. “When you get old and your career is way in the past, honorarium is few and far between. NASO has always been very kind to me. It’s a very nice honor.”

The Inspire Award was created as a means of recognizing individuals or groups that instill pride or spark positive emotions to those in the officiating industry. Markbreit definitely fits the description.

“Jerry was a unanimous choice to be the first recipient because of his life, his career and his decades-long support of sports officials have and continue to inspire us all,” said NASO founder and president Barry Mano. “Sports officiating is so much better off for having been inspired by Jerry, his personal ethic, his officiating standards and his caring for anyone who undertakes the task of being a sports official.”

Markbreit trained and mentored hundreds of officials, both at the collegiate and professional level, over his storied career. Even at 85 years old, he continues to share his passion for officiating and having him as part of the Collegiate Officiating Consortium (COC) is something COC coordinator of officials and former NFL referee Bill Carollo most cherishes about Markbreit.

“How often can you say you have the best in our industry on your team?” Carollo said. “And he is there devoting 100 percent of his time and energy with officials who strive to improve with every game and every season.”

And at the end of the day, there is one piece of advice Markbreit has for all officials. While there are so many good things in officiating, the one elusive thing is the “perfect” game.

“I worked 461 NFL games and I never walked off thinking I worked a perfect game,” he said. “All officials strive for perfection. In my eyes, there is no perfect but there is excellent. My goal is I want to be perfect, but I’ll settle for excellent.”

That striving for perfection and that drive to be excellent in everything is the reason so many officials look up to Markbreit and continue to seek his wisdom and guidance. It is the reason he is the icon of football officiating and why he inspires so many generations of officials. He not only is a mentor on the field, but perhaps he is even more respected for what he does off it.

“Most people do not realize, not only is he terrific at football matters, but what a great person he is outside of football,” Carollo said. “Jerry and his wife, Bobbie, are huge supporters of multiple charities. Jerry is an official’s friend but also friends with all walks in life. He never discriminates and truly accepts everyone as his equal. He has inspired millions of people for not what he has accomplished but for who he really is — an inspiration to all.”

The criteria for the Inspire Award are as follows:

A. The NASO Inspire Award will be presented to those, who by their actions, bring about inspiration, pride and a confirmation of the values cherished by the officiating community.
B. Candidates of special interest can be those who are exemplary in their roles of training, educating and supporting sports officials. 
C. Candidates of special interest can be those who, while not from within the officiating community, confirm the values of: the highest ethical standard, integrity, fairness and impartiality.
D. While the award can be presented posthumously, we believe it better serves its purpose to be presented to someone living.