NFL may be a man’s game but Sarah Thomas has positioned herself to introduce a woman’s call. After working her way up through Pee Wee, high school and the NCAA, mother-of-three Sarah Thomas is ready to take on professional football. Thomas is taking part in the National Football League’s Officiating Development Program. She’s been working on the sidelines officiating since the 1990’s, and is already the first woman to officiate a football game in her home-state of Mississippi.
Sarah Thomas 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.
Thomas says, “I never set out to be the first or be a pioneer, but I embrace it if that does occur, but I have to say individuals out here working, you know, male, female, black, white. Collectively, we’re one. We’re together on this, we’re a team and we’re all striving for the perfect game and the same goal. If you are doing something because you love it and not doing it for recognition things just kind of have a tendency to fall in place.
The 39-year-old mother and wife is not your normal “run of the mill” mother of three, Thomas is one of 21 finalists in the NFL officiating development program. As such, there is a very good chance that she could soon become the league’s first permanent female official.
One can imagine how this all might be received. The majority of this new generation will likely accept Thomas for who she is; a young, up-and-coming referee who has been officiating games throughout grade school, high school and college for the past 16 years. But, unfortunately, the world isn’t always a perfectly accepting place. There will always be some people who see the NFL as a man’s game.
As it relates to football knowledge, passion, work ethic and love for the game, Thomas ranks with top referees. Her vast experience and consistent climb up the ladder should speak to the former, while hearing her talk showcases the latter.
John DeShazier of NewOrleansSaints.com recently interviewed Thomas by first asking about her excitement in the process of becoming an NFL referee. Her answer was plain and simple, “It’s just exciting to get back on a field and get in stripes. It’s the start of football season.”
It’s that simple. Thomas isn’t concerned about making history in the NFL. She isn’t concerned about being a trailblazer for female referees. She’s just happy to be back on the gridiron, making bad calls like the rest of the referees and doing what she is good at. Thomas confirmed this in another interview by stating, “I don’t feel that it’s been harder for me because I’m a female,” she said. “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.”
The year is 2013 and times have changed. Diversity is undoubtedly beneficial for the NFL. It equals more fans, more viewership and, as is always the kicker, more money. Still, though, that’s just the perk. In the end, whoever is being hired should be hired on nothing more than their qualifications. And Sarah Thomas unequivocally has all the qualifications necessary.
NFL may be a man’s game but Sarah Thomas is ready to take the field and introduce a woman’s call.
By no means is her ability to make correct calls and all that goes with the job being questioned. The question that has yet to be answered is whether the male-dominated sport is okay with the notion of female referees in football. There’s long been a stigma against the fairer sex when it comes to sports. Women have traditionally been excluded from being a part of the major leagues, whether it is coaching, refereeing or most other roles.
The New Orleans Saints’ official Twitter account gave us a look at Thomas working a team practice on Thursday morning, signaling that she is getting increasingly closer to reaching the “promised land” for football referees.
If Thomas earns an NFL job through the ordinary channels, that would be something to celebrate. But Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, is making it clear that the NFL will hire Thomas only if she’s the best person for the job, not to make a statement. The NFL has been evaluating Thomas as a potential official for a few years now.
The NFL should brace itself for an upgrade, there’s no doubt Thomas could be the one capable of breaking down this age-old barrier. It’s apparent that Sarah Thomas lives for football; that’s all that should matter.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)