Sarah Thomas ~ Female NFL Referee

The Beginning of an Era

During the September 21st “First NFL Game Ever Played At Allegiant Stadium” many firsts occurred. Among them, Sarah Thomas, the first full-time NFL referee was on the field. Being a referee for the first NFL game and First Monday Night Football Game in Las Vegas and at Allegiant Stadium was an honor. For women everywhere, having Sarah Thomas as a Field Referee was a sign of a new era in NFL football.

Football is considered to be a man’s game. In fact, devotees will always argue that it has always been and should continue to be a man’s game. However, that train of thought was first thrown away in April 2015 by Sarah Thomas. On that date, she became the first full-time female official in NFL history. 

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Sarah Thomas Making History

Indeed, September 13, 2015, was history in the making – it was the first NFL regular-season game she officiated. The trivia answer is the game was between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans. Today, Sarah’s cap, whistle, and banner from that game are featured at the NFL Hall of Fame. That display is a fitting tribute to her noteworthy accomplishment.

Besides breaking barriers within the NFL, Sarah has already accomplished being the first female referee to officiate a major college football game. She was the first female to officiate a bowl game and to officiate in a Big Ten stadium.    

Since joining the NFL’s list of officials, she is a trailblazing inspiration to ladies in this male-dominated arena. Sarah epitomizes that self-confidence, hard work, planning, and giving everything your best can make barriers break.

With this in mind, how did she get to this point?

Sarah Thomas In the 1990s

Sarah was born in Mississippi where she played softball and basketball. She was able to earn a basketball scholarship to the University of Mobile, in Alabama.    Sarah Thomas NFL referee

The story of how Sarah became a referee started one summer afternoon when her brother was going to a referee training class. Sarah invited herself thinking it sounded fun. Even though he tried to discourage her, she went anyway.

After attending a meeting in 1996 at the Gulf Coast Football Officials Association, she says it just felt right. Subsequently, Sarah worked her first high school varsity game in 1999, and 15 years later altered the NFL forever.

Officiating College Football

Gerry Austin, Conference USA’s coordinator of officials and Super Bowl referee, invited her to an officials’ camp in 2006. Of course, he was impressed with her skills and hired her for the Conference USA staff.

Before the game, Austin said that Sarah came highly recommended by two NFL scouts. Moreover, he said she had a good presence and demeanor. “I feel like she has the ability and courage to make a call, and the guts to not make one, too.”

During the 2009 major college football season, Thomas was one of five female officials. She became the only female at the Football Bowl Subdivision (the top) level. In addition, she attained another first when she was assigned to a crew and given a full schedule of 11 games.

On November 12, 2011, Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate in a Big Ten stadium. Furthermore, Sarah became one of 21 finalists in contention for a permanent NFL officiating position.

NFL Female Referee.

A Full-Time NFL Official

Being a trailblazer, Sarah is invited to speak at many highly attended events. Speaking to an audience of over 500, Sarah Thomas gave some great advice. She told them, “If you’re going through life trying to prove people wrong, that list of people will never end. Stop doing it. Believe and prove to yourself that you belong.” 

Sarah Thomas should wear her stripes and number 53 proudly because she has accomplished so much despite gender prejudices. On January 13, 2019, Sarah became the first woman referee to work an NFL playoff game. The game was between the Patriots and Chargers game on January 13, 2019.

Motivating Others

Sarah continues to inspire others to dream big and believe anything is possible. She speaks at events on overcoming adversity in a male-dominated world. Her subjects are, of course, Motivational Women, Overcoming Adversity, University Women’s Issues, and more. Because of her impact, Sports Illustrated ranks her as one of the 100 most influential figures of all time.

Sarah Thomas radiates confidence and prevails as a female in a male-ruled industry. She continues to open doors for both men and women. Seeing her referee in Las Vegas during the first game at Allegiant Stadium was great. Not only did she do a fabulous job, she forever has a place in Allegiant history.

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