First Ever Female NFL Referee

By Matthew Holler, Marketing, ’24

Sarah Thomas, an NFL official has defied the odds throughout her professional career. She competed for positions in the male-dominated industry of football officiating. Being an NFL referee comes with pressure, expectations, and responsibilities. A high school sporting superstar in Pascagoula, Mississippi, Thomas has paid her dues at all football levels. Now, as the NFL’s only female official, she is one of the key figures involved in making the game-changing decisions each week. 

In January 2019, Thomas became the first female on-field official in NFL playoff history as part of the crew for the Divisional Round game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers. 

After finishing her college basketball career at the University of Mobile, Sarah Thomas came to football, graduating with a degree in Communications in 1995. Looking to remain involved in sports, she jumped at the opportunity the following year to attend a meeting for aspiring football officials with her brother. Given her background as a female athlete, Sarah Thomas was very familiar with women’s sports, where women referees were common and it wouldn’t be given a second glance.

Before Sarah Thomas pursued her NFL officiating job, National Sports Associations never had female’s attempting to pursue officiating jobs or coaching jobs. Males would pursue that type of job just because it’s always been that way. This could be because females knew that an NFL job, including coaching or becoming a referee, could break the news and become headlines. This would be a significant amount of pressure for her in becoming the first female to officiate an NFL game. 

As a society, people are scared of living in a “not normal” kind of lifestyle. Having to live in a world with fixed norms shows how uneducated people were before Sarah Thomas. In this video Sarah Thomas tells us to “ Go out and do something because you love it, and not because you’re trying to prove someone wrong.” She also says “Don’t let your gender or race keep you from doing something that you love.” 

The year of 2020 has definitely supported many of these lifestyle aspects from all around the world. Picking a certain lifestyle or job cannot be determined based on what gender you are. Sarah Thomas has told us that her friends have started to watch more football because of what she’s doing and what she believes in. Sarah Thomas’s interviewer Judy Battista tells her that many officials are challenged all the time. Sarah responded that she will face the same challenges a rookie official might face throughout the season. Sarah is showing the players, the teams, the league, and the fans that she doesn’t see herself different from all of the other male officials in the league.

There have been many female referees and coaches that have taken on the NFL as well as other national organizations including the National Basketball Association. Sarah has enlightened many females to join her belief to do whatever a female may want to do throughout her life. She is a true inspiration to many younger girls and to everybody all over the world that gender can be flexible to many different things in the world.