At Long Last, NFL Has First Female Referee
by Julia Lebovitz on Friday, April 24th, 2015
On April 8th, Sarah Thomas officially became the first female referee in the National Football League. Although Shannon Easton officiated as a replacement in 2012 when the regular referees were locked out by the owners, Sarah Thomas marks the first woman to be hired full-time as a line judge.
Becoming the first female NFL referee is not the first barrier that Thomas has broken. Since first aspiring to be a football ref after attending a summit with her brother, Thomas has been picked as the first woman to officiate for the Gulf Coast Football Association, a college football game, an FBS Bowl game, and a Big Ten game. Officiating since 1996, she has certainly proved herself to be a competent football referee. Thomas does not feel that her gender has impeded her career and does not want it to factor into how people view her as an official. Before every game, she tucks her hair into a cap. In fact, Thomas stated, “When you’re out there officiating, the guys don’t think of me as a woman, I mean, they want me to be just like them – just be an official – and that’s what I’ve always set out to do.”
Although the NFL just hired its first female referee, the National Basketball Association has enlisted female officials since 1997. When asked if she felt like a pioneer, Thomas, who played collegiate hoops at the University of Mobile, responded, “being a former basketball player, I saw females officiating all the time, so no, I don’t feel like a pioneer.” Thomas also believes that her gender should not affect how she’s perceived and hopes “officials are hired based on merit, regardless of race and gender.”
Not all NFL fans concur with Thomas’ ideology. Some have speculated that the NFL felt motivated to hire a female referee because of the recent domestic abuse scandal with Ray Rice, a former Running Back for the Baltimore Ravens. According to the Huffington Post, “wanted or not, gender ultimately will be a continuous point of focus on Thomas’s position in the league.”
Although she may not believe that her hard work has yet to open doors for other women aspiring to be referees, Sarah Thomas hopes that other women will follow in her footsteps and that NFL officiating will one day lose its identity as a male-dominated profession.
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