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Inside the World of NFL Officiating

When it comes to football, we tend to look up to superstar players and dynamic coaches. But what about those other people on the field, the officials? Who ever says they want to be a linesman when they grow up? Or that they want to crush an instant replay review? Unless there’s a bad call, we rarely pay that much attention to the zebra crews.

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan wants to change that.

With Super Bowl XLVIII in town, the museum is hosting the exhibition You Make the Call: Lean to be an NFL Official at its Upper West Side location. The exhibit opened earlier this month and gives kids and families a view into what it takes — physically, mentally, and creatively — to be an NFL official.

“The officials division [of the NFL] was looking for a creative way to talk about officials to the public and the decision-making that goes into being an official,” says the museum’s executive director Andy Ackerman. “They knew that physical activity was really important to us. So between the decision-making and the health and our creative ways of making workshops to get it across, everything came together.”

You Make the Call features five different stations that give kids the experience of being an NFL official. The first is an obstacle course that tests visitors’ physical fitness. Next is an arts and crafts area where kids (and their parents) can make their own penalty flags using official penalty flag material. There’s also a display of officiating artifacts from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and an area where you can do the “Zebra Dance” by learning the different motions used in penalty calls.

But the coolest part of the exhibit, though, is the instant replay area. The museum has an official replay booth loaded up with 271 different plays, though the museum tends to focus on calls made during Giants games.

“This gives the families a chance to interact with each other,” says Prince, a museum staffer. “They talk, they problem solve, they really look and analyze to see what’s going to happen.”

At the replay booth, kids can go “under the hood” like a real official, watch a play from all sorts of different angles, and decide if the call on the field should stand or be overturned. Everything about the booth is accurate, from the high-def screen to the size of the booth itself. But there is one exception: You have to use a modified Xbox controller to slow the action down, speed things up, or change cameras.

“On a weekend when we have older kids, I was watching a 10-year-old in the replay booth manipulating it with such incredible dexterity, it was like, Oh my God, these are the officials of the future!” Ackerman says.

In a way, that’s what You Make the Call is all about. The exhibit shows kids how difficult the job of an NFL official is — maybe more difficult than they thought before visiting the museum. But it’s also designed to get kids who normally dream about being the next great quarterback to maybe get excited about the job of officiating, too.

“Very few of us can become a pro athlete. But there other careers in sports,” Ackerman says. “You can be an official, you can be a linesman, you can be an announcer. So we talk to kids about the different careers.”

You Make the Call: Lean to be an NFL Official is on display at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan through February 28. Visit the museum’s website for more information on the exhibit.

Photos courtesy Children’s Museum of Manhattan

children's museum of manhattan you make the call