Referee Sarah Thomas Could Shatter NFL Gender Barriers
11:21 am, August 2nd | by Grace Rasmus
“I didn’t set out to break a glass ceiling or a gender barrier,” Thomas told Bloomberg in early July. “If you’re doing things because you love them, then things have a tendency to just kind of fall into place.”
Thomas is one of 21 officials who are in the NFL’s higher-level training pool. When a position opens up, the league will choose to bump someone up from that group and Thomas is apparently a top contender for the spot.
“[Thomas becoming a permanent official would be a] good positive first step that begins to reflect the gender dynamics of the NFL audience,” Aine Duggan, president of the National Council for Research on Women, told Bloomberg. Since a large percentage of football fans are female, Duggan says “it’s important for women to see themselves reflected on and off the field. Having a woman referee is a good step that begins to do that.”
Though everyone is quick to comment on her gender — she has gained notoriety among football fans for being the first woman to officiate a bowl game during the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and the the first female official to work in a Big Ten stadium — Thomas insists that it’s not a big deal and that the only time she’s ever been fully conscious of her femininity on the field was when she was pregnant. “The spouses of my crew made me a maternity referee shirt,” she told the New York Times in 2009. “Standing out there, big and in stripes has been the only time I’ve ever felt out of place.”
Thomas also echoed the modesty of Gabrielle Turnquest, Britain’s youngest female lawyer, when she said she wasn’t even aware that her accomplishments are so groundbreaking.
“When I got started in this 17 years ago, I had no idea that there weren’t any females officiating,” Thomas said. “I never set out to become the first female official in the NFL. I’m just glad to be an official, wherever that may be, and just want to do the best job I can do.”