In 2015, Sarah Thomas became the first full-time female official in NFL history. She debuted in a Chiefs/Texans game at NRG Stadium that September, working as line judge for Pete Morelli.
“It’s been amazing,” Thomas said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “It really has. Being that I’ve been an official in some capacity for 18 years prior to them hiring me, this just goes to the next level. The National Football League is the top. It really is. The way that they handle themselves, and even the officials a this level, the players and the coaches, it has been very congratulatory. There has been really no negative that I know of as far as my gender. It’s been very (well-received).”
Thomas remains the only female official in the NFL – at least for now.
“I am, but there are three other women that are currently in the developmental program, which is fantastic,” she said. “I don’t know how many women are at the collegiate level and high school level now. I just had a picture sent to me that there was a women’s forum that the National Football League puts on. It was at the Pro Bowl last weekend, and they had an all-women’s officiating crew on the field. So those are things that you didn’t see when I first came in. You really didn’t see them 10 years ago, so it’s fantastic for women.”
Referees, of course, get a lot of criticism from fans for bad calls – or at least calls that fans perceive as bad. Fans don’t hold back on Thomas because she is a female. If anything, some of the criticism is probably worse because of it.
“Well, the funny thing is, being an athlete, our coaches told us never put yourself in a position to have an official change the course of a game or call the game,” Thomas said. “So we don’t. We truly don’t. When I was an athlete, I didn’t like the officials. I was like, ‘I see that you’re out here, but you don’t have to blow the whistle every time. Are you trying to foul me out?’ But no, as an official, we do hear a lot. We know that the fans are there and there’s a lot of criticism, but don’t shoot the messenger. We’re just trying to implement the rules and do our job. Everybody else makes up the rules. We’re just here to enforce them.”