Sarah Thomas is making NFL history on February 7 as the first female referee to ever officiate a Super Bowl. All eyes will be on the 47-year-old mother of three as she steps onto the field to referee the biggest televised sporting event of the year.
The NFL first announced that Thomas would be one of Super Bowl LV’s referees in January, thrusting the statuesque blonde woman born in Pascagoula, Mississippi into the media spotlight. While Thomas has been officiating NFL games since 2015, many have never heard of her name prior to his year.
Thomas, who’s been married to husband Brian Thomas since 2000, has three kids. The couple has two sons, Bridley, 17, and Brady, 14, along with a daughter, Bailey, 5.
“Being the first isn’t the reason I did this, but if my story can positively impact anyone, that’s what matters to me,” Thomas said after the NFL announced she’d be working as the officiating crew’s down judge for Super Bowl LV. “I don’t want to be on an island by myself as the first female official. But I love having the title, and I love what it means to other people, including my daughter.”
In 2013, Thomas opened up to ABC News about being a wife, mother, and full-time NFL ref. “I could not do this without the support of my husband and my kids,” she said. It [refereeing] has been a part of my children’s lives ever since they’ve been here, so this is just what mom does.”
She also never found being a woman in such a male-dominated sport to be an intimidating prospect. “When I got started in this 17 years ago, I had no idea that there weren’t any females officiating,” said Thomas. “I never set out to become the first female official in the NFL.”
“I don’t feel that it’s been harder for me because I’m a female,” she continued. “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.”
Thomas Is the First Full-Time Female Referee in NFL History
Thomas worked full-time as a pharmaceutical sales rep as she moved through the ranks as a referee, ESPN reported. She started officiating elementary schools, before refereeing high school football games. Thomas became the first woman ever to officiate a major college football game, and in 2009, became the first female to officiate a bowl game.
Thomas transitioned into the NFL after joining the league’s development program. After working a series of preseason games, Thomas was hired to be a full-time member of Pete Morelli’s crew in 2015.
While Thomas is not the first-ever female NFL referee, that honor belongs to Shannon Eastin, who worked as a replacement ref during the 2012 officials lockout, she is the first full-time female NFL referee.
During the 2018-2019 season, Thomas earned her first on-field assignment for a playoff game. She officiated the AFC divisional matchup between the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots on January 13, 2019.
Thomas Is Unfazed By Getting Cursed By Players & Coaches – It’s Part of the Job
Thomas does not receive any special treatment while officiating NFL games, nor is that something she would want or expect. When asked if she gets cursed out by players and coaches, “Of course,” Thomas said during a press conference in 2018. “Yes.”
And how does she respond? “I answer their question or I ignore them. Because here’s the thing, silence can never be misquoted. So, if you’re quiet they can’t you said ‘so and so’ And another thing I learned, when it comes to players and coaches, this is their profession. I want to be as professional as I can and I try to carry myself that way.”
“The first form of rejection, at any level, is being ignored,” Thomas continued. “So, I will address them in a professional matter and usually we move on.”