The National Football League has always been officiated by men — until now.
On Wednesday, the NFL made the groundbreaking announcement that Sarah Thomas has been selected as the first full-time female official in the history of the league. The NFL broke the gender barrier and introduced Thomas, not as a part-time referee or an assisting official, but as a full-time official. She joined the crew as a line judge among eight other new NFL officials for the 2015 season, NFL News reported.
Sarah Thomas has definitely made history, but I don’t see her as a trailblazer. Thomas is a highly experienced judge, and she is backed by a strong resume. She has been officiating football for almost 20 years, including at the high school and collegiate levels. I see her as an experienced official with good focus and strong judgment. I’m convinced that with her expertise in officiating football, she can make all the right calls. In other words, she is just like other officials on the field, and I don’t think gender is going to play a huge role in her officiating of the game.
Thomas herself also made comments on this topic during an interview with ABC News in 2013. “I don’t feel that it’s been harder for me because I’m female. I think we’re just out here working as officials … I think just on our credentials, as officials, I think that’s what moves us along, not because of our gender or our race,” she said.
However, gender will ultimately become a continuous point of focus in Thomas’s career, wanted or not. Earlier in her career, Thomas was asked to tuck her hair inside her cap when on the field. She had also been asked not to wear any makeup when officiating the game during her eight years officiating in Conference USA. The conference was trying to let her blend in with other referees, but Sarah didn’t like that idea.
Sarah expressed her view in an interview with Good Morning America. “When he did say ‘no makeup,’ I was like, ‘You’re crossing the line here. I’ve got to wear some makeup.’ But I get it. Gerald Austin, the supervisor of Conference USA, just wanted me to blend in. If you notice, there’s not many guys with facial hair,” she said.
Thomas has always been very competitive. She played basketball in University of Mobile in Alabama. She got into the field of officiating by accident, when she followed her brother to an officials meeting back in 1996.
One thing that Sarah Thomas has to understand is that her competitiveness can definitely help her with her job, but keeping up with the fast-paced lifestyle is more important in a full-time official’s career. She will have to travel frequently from one city to another. Sometimes, she will have back-to-back games, and it might be exhausting, but I believe that with her dedication and her passion to the game, she will help the league to improve.
“Be very driven and dedicated to your job, and training, just immense amount of training,” she said.