On April 8, an announcement was made that Sarah Thomas, a native of Mississippi, will become the first female to officiate an NFL game. Thomas is only one of nine new officials who will work for the league this season.
Thomas, 41, has been officiating football games for two decades. During the nineties, she started out as a pee-wee official. Thomas would eventually work on crews for high school football games as well.
In 2007, she became the first female referee to work in an NCAA game. Since then, she has officiated both regular season and bowl games. The one stint that stands out the most on Thomas’ resume is officiating Conference USA games for the past eight years.
Two years ago, Thomas was one of 21 finalists who were eligible for a full-time position in the NFL. She was employed to run scrimmages for the New Orleans Saints. She also served time at the minicamp of the Indianapolis Colts.
As the 2015 season kicks off, Thomas knows that she will have a job to do. She also understands that she will have a lot of support around the NFL. Several of the league’s coaches and players are serving as advocates for Thomas.
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh displayed a lot of support for Thomas at Wednesday’s press conference. “We had her in the preseason last year, and she did a good job. She’s got to be one of the better refs we have,” said Harbaugh.
Cleveland Browns defensive tackle John Hughes also agrees with Harbaugh’s words of Thomas. “If she calls a hold when it’s a hold, I’ll appreciate it,” said Hughes. “Man or woman that can get the job done and make the right call is all right with me.”
Officials, who work at any level, have a hard job. They need to see everything that takes place in the action. They need to make the calls when they see something that does not appear right. They also need to keep the players in line during a game.
In Thomas’ case, she is willing to approach every challenge head on. “I’m not nervous, really,” she says. “I’m just making sure that my fellow crew mates know I’m ready, and that the coaches and players know I’m there to do a job as an official.”
There have been a lot of firsts in NFL history. The first 2,000-yard rushing season, the first 50 touchdown pass season, even the first season to see a team go 0-16. This is something that will throw a lot of people for a loop, but it’s something that the league sees as positive.