The National Football League (NFL) hired Sarah Thomas as its first full-time female official on April 8. She will work as a line judge for the 2015 NFL season.
The National Football League (NFL) hired Sarah Thomas as its first full-time female official on April 8.
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According to Connor Orr of the NFL's official website, the league promoted Thomas, a 19-year veteran, after spending the last eight years in Conference USA. She owns the distinction of being the first female football official to work a collegiate bowl game when she worked the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Thomas also became the first female football official to work in a Big Ten stadium when she officiated the 2011 Rice Owls vs. Northwestern Wildcats game, per NFL.com.
An April 8 ESPN update also reveals Thomas officiated in the Senior Bowl, the Fight Hunger Bowl and the Medal of Honor Bowl.
Although Thomas had some experience officiating Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts minicamp practices in past years, Orr stresses it's her "strong resume at the NCAA level" which ultimately made the difference in her NFL aspirations.
USA Today's Lindsay H. Jones stresses Thomas' role as an NFL line judge requires her to "be responsible for activity and calls made at the line of scrimmage."
For her part, Thomas shared her sentiments with NFL Media's Judy Battista (via NFL.com) on the hiring:
"Knowing that the journey an official goes through -- pee-wee, high school, if you're fortunate enough to even go to the junior college leve, small college, Division I, then of course the National Football League. But you never dream that this would really come true."
Thomas emphasized to Jones it's her love for the game of football which got her to where she is today:
"I'm a female, I can't change that. Just because I love the game of football and officiating, I do honor the fact that a lot of people consider me as a trailblazer. But as far as being forced into a trailblazer role...I don't feel that way.
"I've just been doing it truly because I love it. When you're out there officiating, the guys don't think of me as a female. I mean, they want me to be just like them -- just be an offiical -- and that's what I've always set out to do."
In a conference call with ESPN, Thomas said she will wear her hair insider her cap. She also said she has had no issues with the league's coaches and players:
"I think my hair's the least of my concerns. I know that I will probably stand out being the first, but as far as players and coaches, I've been around a good little while, and I think they know who I am and just want to make sure I can do my job.
All in all, the NFL announced the hiring of nine referees for the 2015 season, per Orr. The others are Kevin Codey, Hugo Cruz, Bart Longson, Clay Martin, Aaron Santi, Shawn Smith, Jabir Walker and Walt Coleman IV.
"Our incoming officials have all demonstrated that they are among the best in college football," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in a statement obtained by Orr. "We are excited about having them join us."
Blandino also explained why the league has been replacing officials more aggressively in recent years past via a conference call with ESPN:
"I think that's a combination of things. There have been some that have retired and some that we've moved on from. We take it very seriously. We want the best officials.
"We do a comprehensive review. If the official isn't performing up to the standard, they won't be in the National Football League. There are many qualified people out there. The pressure is immense."
In an interview with Jones, Blandino also reveals the NFL had been eyeing Thomas for quite some time now:
"If you look at Sarah's background and her journey to get here, this is not something that happened overnight. She's been on our radar screen for eight to nine years. It's a testament to what she's accomplished."
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh also endorsed Thomas' candidacy, per ESPN. "We had her in the preseason last year. She did a good job," Harbaugh said. " She might be one of the better ones we've had. So, it's about time."
"Everyone has been very professional and looked at me as another official."
Thomas, who hails from Mississippi, first worked high school games in 1999. She then worked her way up the officiating ranks until she made it to the NFL this year, per Orr.
Thomas works as a pharmaceutical representative off the football field, per ESPN. Her two sons and daughter "see nothing extraordinary about her football job," per the ESPN update.
"They just know mom officiates and it's nothing foreign to them or pioneering or anything," Thomas told ESPN. "I do this."
Thomas will be the lone female official in the NFL this season, but that might not be the case in the near future. Blandino revealed to USA Today on Wednesday there are 15 female officials in different stages of the NFL's development program. One is even in the advanced stage, which is just one step away from working in the NFL.
"We are really dedicated to developing them to give them opportunity to continue their careers," Blandino told Jones. "We do have quite a few women officiating, and we look for that to continue."
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