The NFL is poised to make a groundbreaking move, hiring its first female referee, Sarah Thomas. Another woman, Shannon Eastin, refereed a game during the replacement referee era in 2012. Although Eastin was a side judge for that Rams-Lions game on September 9, 2012, Thomas would serve as the first permanent female NFL referee.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Has Refereed Since 1996
Thomas began officiating in 1996 after accompanying her brother, Lea, to a meeting of the Gulf Coast Football Officials Association. Thomas became the first female to officiate a Division 1-A high school football game in Mississippi that same season.
2. She Worked With a Former NFL Referee
After 10 years and three children, Thomas decided to hang up the towel on football, but before she could do so, she caught the attention of Gerald Austin, an NFL official for more than 25 years who is now the coordinator of football officials for Conference USA.
Her first game that she refereed in the Conference USA was on September, 15th 2007, a 35-14 win for Memphis over Jacksonville State in Memphis, TN.
She also refereed in the United Football League in 2010, even being selected to referee the championship game on November 27th, 2010:
She has been a part of the NFL Officiating Development Program since 2006. The program identifies top-level officials with NFL potential and seeks to perfect their abilities through a series of on and off-the-field training programs.
3. She Has Broken Gender Barriers Before
In 2009, she was one of five female referees in the Football Bowl Subdivision and worked a bowl game as well. She refereed the Little Caesar’s Bowl on December 26th, 2009 between Marshall and Ohio University. Additionally, she became the first female official to work in a Big Ten stadium in 2011.
In a New York Times article from 2009, the author Joe Drape observed, “She and her fellow officials say her gender has never been an issue”.
4. She Is a Sales Representative & an Advocate for Youth Groups
Thomas works full-time in pharmaceutical sales for Novo Nordisk.
On November 5, 2013, Thomas was one of four presenters for the Palazzo Youth Leadership Summit. In her biography for the event, she is listed as an active member of Pinelake Baptist Church in Brandon, Mississippi. She is heavily involved in the Upward Basketball ministry at Pinelake where she has served as a commissioner, coach for each of her boy’s teams, and officiates the Friday night games
5. She Has 3 Children With Her Husband Brian
Thomas and her husband Brian have two boys, Bridley and Brady, ages 14 and 11, as well as a 2 year old girl named Bailey.
Speaking to her focus on her career and family, she even once refereed a high school football game when she was pregnant. According to a New York Times article on Thomas in 2009, she worked the game clock while pregnant with her sons.
A Bloomberg Business article on female referees questioned her children’s feeling on her being a referee: “Asked if her kids think she’s the coolest mom on the planet, Thomas responded: ‘Well, of course they do. Not because I officiate, because I’m their mom.'”
She currently resides in Brandon, Mississippi.