It was 10:47 a.m. on April 2, 2015. Sarah Thomas still remembers the exact time when she got a call from the then-National Football League (NFL) vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. “I am honored to be the first one to call the first female referee of the NFL,” Blandino said. With the phone call, Thomas broke the glass ceiling in the referee room for the first time in 95 years since the foundation of the NFL.
On February 8, Thomas will earn a title as the first female referee to officiate the Super Bowl in the past 55 years since the Super Bowl was first introduced. The NFL announced a team of eight referees for this year’s Super Bowl on Wednesday, including Thomas as the down judge.
Born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, Thomas played softball and basketball in school. She went to the University of Mobile with a basketball scholarship and studied journalism before returning to her hometown in 1995 and working at the PR team of a pharmaceutical company. She began serving as a referee for middle school and high school football games as a hobby because she didn’t want to sever all her connections with sports after college graduation.
Over 10 years later, Thomas who became the mother of two sons at that point received a call from Gerry Austin, an advisor for the NFL Referees Association, in 2007. He said it was great to see her working as a referee at the Mississippi High School Football Championships. Austin who served as the first black NFL official was in charge of recruiting new referees for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). She became the first female football referee of the NCAA with the call and will officiate the Super Bowl this year. “What’s most important is to remain in your spot until the end. That’s how you gain the power to open the next door,” Thomas said.
Kyu-In Hwang firstname.lastname@example.org