Last week we kicked off the first article of #WomenInNFL blog series, and now we’re back again to showcase yet another incredible female leading the way in officiating the game.
Who is Sarah Thomas?
Sarah Thomas was the first woman to referee a major college football game, the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium, the first to officiate a bowl game, the first full-time female official hired in NFL history, and in 2019 she became the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game.
How it all started
Sarah Thomas started her career as an official in 1996 for the Gulf Coast Football Officials Association. She worked her first varsity high school game in 1999.
In 2006, she was invited to an officials’ camp by Gerry Austin, co-ordinator of Conference USA (Gerry also referred Super Bowls XXXI and XXXV). He was so impressed with her skills and hired her for the Conference USA staff.
Just one year later, Sarah hit her first ‘first’ when she became the first woman to officiate a major college football game between Memphis and Jacksonville State.
“She came highly recommended by two NFL scouts. She has a good presence and demeanor. I feel like she has the ability and courage to make a call, and the guts to not make one, too.”Gerry Austin, prior to the game.
Three years later, Sarah was one of five female officials in major college football, and the only one at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. She was assigned to a crew and given a full schedule of 11 games. At the end of the season she was assigned to work the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Marshall and Ohio. This made her the first woman to officiate a bowl game – another incredible first.
“I noticed her before the game, but that was it. Once the game started, she was just doing the job that the line judge does in every game we play. It didn’t matter that she was a woman at all.”Martin Ward, Running Back and game MVP for Marshall, on Sarah’s presence on the field.
In 2011, Sarah Thomas became the first female to officiate in a Big Ten stadium, working as a line judge when Northwestern hosted Rice.
Joining the NFL
In 2013, Sarah became one of 21 finalists in contention for a permanent NFL officiating position. She worked New Orleans Saints scrimmages, and was part of the NFL officiating development program, spending three days at the Indianapolis Colts minicamp.
By April 2015, Sarah was officially announced as the first permanent female official in NFL history. On September 13, she made her NFL regular season debut in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans as part of Pete Morelli’s crew as the line judge.
Sarah’s latest accolade
Sarah took on yet another incredible ‘first’ when she became the first woman to earn an on-field assignment for a playoff game. She was named to the crew for the game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers on January 13, 2019.
I can’t wait to see her continue to break the barriers and pave the way for more females to join the world of American Football. She is an absolute inspiration.