Sarah Thomas: Between the Lines

First female official in the NFL sits down with WLBT’s Rachel Richlinski

Sarah Thomas: Between the lines

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - The NFL’s first female official is a Pascagoula, Mississippi native and currently lives in Brandon, Mississippi.

This past football season, Sarah Thomas raised the bar even higher by becoming the first female official to work an NFL playoff game.

Thomas stumbled upon officiating in her early twenties. It all started after she was kicked off an all-male basketball team because she was a female. Soon after that, Thomas was talking with her older brother who was on his way to a football official’s meeting. Sarah asked him if girls could attend. He said yes, and the rest is history.

“As a former athlete I said all the time that I hated the officials and they probably hated me," Thomas said.

But being in a room surrounded with officials, Thomas admired their passion and it was her competitive drive that pushed her to sign up to be an official.

“I didn’t have a clue about the game of football. I didn’t know there was a number requirement on both sides. I really did have a lot to learn,” Thomas said.

She started small. Working pee wee games, middle school games and working her way up to the high school level. Thomas did whatever she could to stay involved and stay learning. She worked at that level for 10 years before considering calling it quits. By then, she had a family and wanted to devote more time to attending her kid’s games as a fan rather than an official. But it was a high school state championship game that took leaving officiating out of the equation.

“There was an NFL scout there and he recognized me and he got my plugged in with Gerald Austin and Conference USA,” Thomas explained. “Funny story about that. Gerald told me that he had to put my initials because he had not told the commissioner he had hired a female.”

She was hired in 2007 to work college games and eventually became the first woman to work a college bowl game. Thomas was then hired by the NFL in 2015.

In response to people who believe women shouldn’t have a job in football, Thomas gives a firm answer.

“They’re entitled to their opinion,” Thomas said. “But, if mentally and physically a women can do what the man’s job is then I don’t think gender should hold her back.”

Thomas is a mother of three and family is one of her top priorities. Her youngest child is a six-year-old girl who Thomas hopes to instill in her that she can do anything she sets her mind to. Thomas said when she brought her family to Super Bowl III, she asked her daughter if she wanted to participate in a girls football camp. Her daughter immediately said yes.

“She didn’t ask if girls have to do it, or question was she going to be the only one and I think that’s huge,” Thomas said.

Looking back on her journey to the NFL, Thomas said she never could have imagined things turning out the way they did. And as far as what’s next, she’s unsure.

“I have no idea how long this journey will go," Thomas said. "I’ll go as long as my body’s capable of going and keeping up and after that, I don’t know. I have no idea.”

Sarah remains the NFL’s only female official, but she did say there are three other women in the NFL’s developmental program.

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