Kathryn Nesbitt made history on August 11, 2020, when she became the first woman official to referee an MLS championship game.
Nesbitt has plenty of experience, though. She’s been refereeing soccer since she was 14 years old. Since then she has worked her way up to be able to officiate on some of the biggest stages including the U-17 World Cup in 2016, the U-20 World Cup in 2018, and the Women’s World Cup in France in 2019.
In addition to being the first woman to officiate an MLS championship game, she was also the first woman referee assigned to officiate a playoff game in 2018, and the first woman to officiate an MLS game in 2017, according to Towson News.
But Nesbitt’s list of accomplishments go past the soccer field. She also has a doctorate in chemistry, and was formerly a professor at Towson University in Maryland. Nesbitt told the Los Angeles Times that her passion for both officiating and science go hand in hand for driving her ambitions.
“A lot of people that aspire to be at a high level of things often carry that through many aspects of their life,” Nesbitt said in a phone interview with the Los Angeles Times. “That’s kind of always how it’s been for me. I’ve always had a big passion for chemistry so I’ve taken that as far as I can. Same thing with refereeing. They’re completely different interests but my passion just kind of drives my ambition towards both of them.”
The MLS Is Back tournament took place in a single-site ‘bubble’ because of the global pandemic. Nesbitt and fellow official Felisha Mariscal were the only two women of more than 40 people selected to work the month-long tournament.
“I think that the entire referee group here worked incredibly hard to have strong performances and to be named to the final means that you’ve had a strong performance and really shown what you’re worth here,” Nesbitt said in an interview with the Associated Press. “So it’s honestly a huge honor to have made it this far and to be on the field for that final game.”
FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, has a referee stipulation which only allows female officials to work women’s games at the senior level, while male officials only work men’s games at the senior level, which Nesbitt believes is antiquated and hurts the game.
“The best officials should be chosen for the best matches,” Nesbitt told the Los Angeles Times in 2019 before the start of the Women’s World Cup. “If women are proving to be the best officials then at some point it would be good that we can have not this diversity between the leagues but just to have the best officials.”
With Nesbitt leading the charge for a new pathway for female referees, the future is bright for women making their way into the men’s side of the sport. At the end of the day, it’s about their qualifications to officiate and making fair calls. Nesbitt said she hopes to inspire the next group of referees through her work.
“I’m really hopeful that I’m putting out a good example and emanating qualities that other officials hope to achieve someday,” Nesbitt said in an interview with The IX.