NFL official Sarah Thomas will make history again this weekend.
Sarah Thomas, the 46-year-old NFL official, will make history again on Sunday as part of Ron Torbert’s officiating crew for the match-up between the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots.
Thomas first made history four years ago when she became the league’s first full-time female official. She has worked as a down judge for the past two seasons and was listed as an alternate for the 2017 Wild Card game between the Ravens and Falcons. On Sunday, she’ll be the first female NFL playoff referee.
Sarah Thomas is reportedly about to make NFL history again https://t.co/45mBIOcDAu
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 9, 2019
This might be a big deal to people, but it’s just another step for Thomas, who has been breaking barriers as a referee for the past decade and a half.
Back in 2013, I covered her rise from reffing high school games while pregnant to becoming the first woman to officiate an FBS game as a line judge at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl between BYU and Washington that season.
It was college, but everyone knew that Thomas was on her way to bigger and better things. Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, was very high on her.
“Sarah’s at the top of our scouting program,” said Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, to the HuffingtonPost.com at the time.
She eventually took that next leap into primetime action, working at the Saints’ practice and the Colts’ mini-camp, officiating scrimmages in the offseason as part of the National Football League’s Officiating Development Program.
The program identifies top-level officials with NFL potential and seeks to perfect their abilities through a series of on and off-the-field training programs. The most advanced officials in the program, like Thomas, are considered finalists for NFL openings when they arise.
On April 8, 2015, Thomas broke through, becoming the first full-time female official in NFL history. Thomas followed in the footsteps of Shannon Eastin, the first part-time female official in the NFL, who was hired in 2012 during the lockout of full-time referees.
Sarah Thomas was the first woman to officiate a major college football game, the first to officiate a bowl game, and the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium. On April 8, 2015, Thomas was hired as the first full-time female official in NFL history. #YesSheCan pic.twitter.com/oD5i60J3IF
— Jose J. Ruiz (@josejorgeruiz) March 8, 2018
Thomas’ unprecedented opportunity was a destiny-driven result of being discriminated against athletically.
She was a 23-year-old ex-college basketball player when she was thrown off a church-league team in Mississippi because she was female. To stay in touch with sports, she joined her older brother at a Gulf Coast Football Officials Association meeting and the rest is history.
The Pascagoula, Mississippi native toppled every obstacle thrown her way and aced the necessary protocol to be considered for permanent appointment as an NFL referee.
Thomas is a barrier-breaker in every sense, a powerful mixture of brains, brawn, talent, desire and experience.
After becoming the first female to officiate a Division 1-A high school football game in Mississippi in 1996, Thomas became the first female referee in major college football in 2007. Two years later, Thomas became the first woman to officiate a bowl game during the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
She was a line judge during the game between Marshall and Ohio. In 2011, she became the first female official to work in a Big Ten stadium.
Although she’s a football official, Thomas’ first passions were softball and basketball. She was the first athlete at her high school to letter five times in a sport (softball) and attended the University of Mobile on a basketball scholarship.
The National Basketball Association has used female referees since 1997 when Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner were hired. Major League Baseball has never had a woman umpire but has recently implemented programs to attract more women to the craft.
“I didn’t set out to break a glass ceiling or a gender barrier,” Thomas said. “If you’re doing things because you love them, then things have a tendency to just kind of fall into place.”
With pioneers like Thomas leading the way, expect more women officials in the NFL going forward.