NFL gets first female official Developmental line judge Sarah Thomas smiles in the second half of a preseason NFL football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Diego Chargers (AP photos)
NFL gets first female official
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The NFL has its first full-time female game official and it is Sarah Thomas, who has worked exhibition games. The 41-year-old Thomas was in the league's officiating development program in 2013 and 2014 and worked some team minicamps last year.

She's already broken ground in the officiating field as the first woman to work college games in 2007 and she will be a line judge for the 2015 NFL season, the league announced. She was the first female official on the FBS level and the first to officiate a bowl game, the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.

"I am a female, but I don't look at myself as just a female," Thomas said last June while working a Cleveland Browns minicamp, "I look at myself as an official."

Shannon Eastin worked regular-season NFL games in 2012 as a replacement official, making her the first woman to do so in any capacity. She also was a line judge, which makes many calls, including offsides and the placement of the ball following a play.

Thomas, a former college basketball player, was inspired to become an official in the 1990s when she attended a meeting with her brother, Lea. In 1996, Thomas became the first woman to officiate in a Division 1-A high school football game in Mississippi.

Just under a decade later, she began officiating college games when she was hired by Conference USA, working as a line judge and head linesman. She also has worked the Senior Bowl, the Fight Hunger Bowl, the Medal of Honor Bowl and the Conference USA championship game in 2010 and 2014.

Thomas officiated two seasons in the United Football League, which is now out of business.

Off the field, Thomas is a pharmaceutical representative and she said last June her two sons and one daughter see nothing extraordinary about her football job.

"They just know mom officiates and it's nothing foreign to them or pioneering or anything," she said. "I do this."

Thomas will be among nine first-year officials in the NFL. The group includes side judge Walt Coleman IV, the son of NFL referee Walt Coleman. The Colemans will become the third active father-son officiating duo, joining Ed and Shawn Hochuli and Steve and Brad Freeman.

The other new officials are line judge Kevin Codey from the American Athletic Conference; head linesmen Hugo Cruz of Conference USA and Bart Longson of the Pac-12; umpire Clay Martin of C-USA; side judges Aaron Santi of the Pac-12 and Jabir Walker of the SEC; and field judge Shawn Smith of the Big Ten.

Critical thinking challenge: Why does Sarah Thomas have more experience at the college level than the professional level?

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COMMENTS (30)
  • CCG-Ver
    4/17/2015 - 09:07 a.m.

    I think it's nice that there's a women official in the nfl. I think this a chance for other girls to see that they can be apart of male dominate sports. Also this might be a good thing for other guys to be able to talk to other girls about football and other sports. And she's been. An official for a while so I think it's good for her to become professional. Let's just hope she makes good calls

  • JamisonT-Ver
    4/17/2015 - 10:15 a.m.

    I think that it is a good thing that a woman is an official of the nfl but I also think it will be hard doe her to. Like if there was a fight between the players how could she break it up or the players might not take he seriously.

  • LexieD-Ver
    4/17/2015 - 03:21 p.m.

    its annoying how everyone is like first female to ... like who cares if your the first female . like yeah thats great and all but everytime you read a articale or whatever its first feamle this first female that .

  • alexisb-Koc
    4/19/2015 - 08:00 p.m.

    I think this is awesome and in general, a big step for women. Although I'm not a huge rub-it-in-your-face-feminist, I do believe in equality. I congratulate her on her brave step going into the professional level, especially knowing that people will disagree and be pretty rude because of the fact that she is a woman. Hopefully this just leads us into doing bigger and better things.

  • vincet-Koc
    4/20/2015 - 01:59 a.m.

    In my opinion I don't think it matters if a woman is a referee, because at the end of the day, they all screw the ravens.

  • ethana1-Old
    4/20/2015 - 01:11 p.m.

    she played basketball in collage and that's why she have more experience in collage then professnal. I think she will ive other women inspiration to become refrees

  • taylora1-Old
    4/20/2015 - 01:13 p.m.

    from reading this article, i understand that she has more experience at the college level than the proffesional level because she first gained experience and knowledge of officiating games at a highschool. then she got more experience in hosting college games. For many females that really like playing sports or wanting to do something related to it would definitly want to try it out themselves in order to see if they like doing it or not.

  • kylen1-Old
    4/20/2015 - 01:15 p.m.

    Sarah Thomas has more experience at the college level than the professional level because she began officiating football back in 1996, albeit for high school. Afterwards, less than a decade later, she began officiating college games and has been since then giving her many years of experience and practice in this field. Since she is only a first-year officiating at the professional level (unless you count the two seasons in the United Football League, in which case add that to her experience), her college experience far outweighs her professional experience.

    I think that this article will help mark a place for the role of females in sports. Although I do not think that it will do something too significant, I still do think that it is a big step in equality in sport communities. If Sarah is able to perform at an acceptable rate in her job then it will be able to serve as an example to many that females have just as much right to be involved as males. The reason I say that this will not have too much impact is because, even though there are deviants to my point, the world westernized world has mostly left behind the ideas of men are better than women at everything. I don't think that there are any groups that are too prevent in thinking that women should not have this kind of job and therefore this will not spark any major movement for the rights of women, as they pretty much already have this right. Still, as I said before: this is also not something minor and marks another chapter into the passage of entering a more equal society and future.

  • danielb1-Old
    4/20/2015 - 01:16 p.m.

    I don't think there is a difference in the long run and it kinda feels like whenever something like this comes up people like to (metaphorically) shove it down your throat. To my knowledge experience at the college level and professional level are the same, both involve officiating games. I don't think this article matters in the long run and if anything makes me care less about woman's roles because it is so often repeated and harassed about when women get or don't get something. This isn't the 1920's, women have equal rights and opportunities now and it isn't fair to quote some vague womanizer or sexist to try and prove me wrong. There is always at least one person in the world who is still living in the past. I for one refuse to.

  • daytond-Old
    4/20/2015 - 01:18 p.m.

    Sarah Thomas has had more experiences at the college level then the professional because when she was refereeing college level she did many tournaments and many games, when she was at the college level she was probably to get the NFL and was more then ready to make the big step into the professional area of referring, since she was a girl she might have been over looked at not been given a fair chance until later.

    Since Sarah Tomas is a girl more females are going to try and follow there dreams to became a reefer, since Sarah Tomas was was the first girl to be a girl in NFL is might have aspired more girls to follow there dreams

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