Move Over Boys, Meet The First Ever Female NFL Referee

Sarah_Thomas_NFL_Female Referee

Sisters are doin’ it for…the sport! That’s right, women are breaking down gender barriers left right and center, and the best part about it is that we receive a lot of support from men. Sure, there will always be the sexist, misogynistic un-evolved types voicing their hate, but guess what, we are here to stay.

Meet Sarah Thomas. She was a 23-year-old ex-college basketball player when she was thrown off a Mississippi church-league team because she was female. So she joined her older brother at a football officials’ organizational meeting as a way to stay in sports.

After 16 years of calling high school and college games, she is poised to become the National Football League’s first permanent female game official, possibly as soon as the 2014 season.

“I didn’t set out to break a glass ceiling or a gender barrier,” said Thomas, a 39-year-old from Brandon, Mississippi. “If you’re doing things because you love them, then things have a tendency to just kind of fall into place.”

Thomas’s promotion to the NFL would be a “good positive first step that begins to reflect the gender dynamics of the NFL audience,” said Aine Duggan, president of the New York-based National Council for Research on Women. “It’s important for women to see themselves reflected on and off the field. Having a woman referee is a good step that begins to do that.”

Sarah didn’t feel disadvantaged at any point being a woman because she didn’t even realize that women weren’t NFL officials when she first entered that career path. “I don’t feel that it’s been harder for me because I’m a female,” Thomas told ABC News. “I think that we are just out here working as officials. … I think just on our credentials, just as officials, I think that’s what moves us along, not because of our gender or our race.”

Sarah Thomas Female Referee

Growing up with two brothers who loved sport was a huge influence on Sarah, and its clear to see her own determination, skill and focus has ensured she is not just another girl who is “into” sports, but is bent on being the best as what she does.

In 2009 she became the first woman to officiate a college football bowl game: the Little Caesars Bowl between Ohio University and Marshall University.

The mom of two boys and one girl is a busy working mom indeed. Aside from her sports achievements, she also works full-time in pharmaceutical sales for Bagsvaerd, Denmark-based Novo Nordisk. Phew!

And for those skeptics out there who think its pointless having a female referee in a male sport, perhaps you should know that about 47 percent of the 108.4 million people who watched the 2013 Super Bowl were female, according to Nielsen Holdings NV data. It only makes sense to see more of a female presence in football, reflecting almost half of its viewing audience.

Just imagine how many young girls she is going to inspire to pursue a referee career, or any career in sport for that matter. The rules that have been set in stone for so long are being changed as society’s attitudes shift toward a more gender inclusive mentality.

For the first time ever, we are excited for the NFL season to start! Her message to girls: “Persevere,” she told ESPN’s Jane McManus. It’s something she knows more than a little about.

Sarah Thomas, NFL Referee



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