100 of the Most Influential Women in Sport: Sarah Thomas

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Sarah Thomas

100 of the Most Influential Women in Sport >> Boardroom & Administration

Sarah Thomas, USA

NFL, referee

Sarah Thomas didn’t set out to become a pioneer – in fact, her path to the NFL was born out of mild curiosity. One day, in her early 20s, she decided to tag along with her brother to an officiating seminar and quickly established herself as a youth league and high school referee. Though she had always been involved in sport – having earned a basketball scholarship at the University of Mobile in Alabama – there was no burning desire to reach the upper echelons of American football until catching the eye of a former NFL official, Gerald Austin, in 2006. From there she was worked into the college football rotation and it was in 2015 that the NFL appointed Thomas as the first permanent female official in league history. It had only taken them 95 years.

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– Thomas broke new ground last season when she became the first woman to be assigned as an on-field official for a playoff game, in the New England Patriots’ victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

– The 46-year-old still holds down a day job as a pharmaceutical sales representative, as most officiating positions in the NFL are not full-time posts.

– It is not just in the NFL that Thomas has made her presence felt. Her college milestones include officiating a Bowl game between Marshall and Ohio in 2009, and her first Big Ten game, Northwestern hosting Rice, two years later.

Did you know…

Thomas broke her wrist while officiating a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings as a line judge in 2016. She was driven into the ground after a receiver made accidental contact on the sidelines, but she returned after a brief evaluation under concussion protocol to finish the game.

“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 official — and that’s what I’ve always set out to do.” – Sarah Thomas

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