When Sarah Thomas began officiating 19 years ago, she had no idea there were no women referees in the National Football League.
“I never set out to become the first female official in the NFL,” she ttold ABC News in 2013, but today she makes history as the first woman to be assigned full-time to an NFL officiating crew.
The NFL announced nine first-year NFL officials who graduated from the NFL Officiating Development program, which trains top college football officials. The 41-year-old will join the NFL as a line judge after 19 years officiating and eight years with Conference USA.
“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. “We are excited about having them join us.”
Ms Thomas, a former college basketball player, wanted to learn more about the game of American football and began to pursue officiating — and she’s been making history ever since.
In 2011, the Mississippi native became the first woman to referee in a Big Ten stadium. In 2009, she became the first woman to referee a college bowl game at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. In 2013, she then joined the NFL’s officiating program, working Saints games as requirements for the course.
”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.“
Ms Thomas is also a wife and mother of two sons and a daughter. She says her family doesn’t consider her job out of the ordinary.
”They just know mom officiates and it's nothing foreign to them or pioneering or anything,“ she said. ”I do this.”