The NFL has reportedly hired Sarah Thomas as its first-ever female official. She previously went through the NFL’s officiating development program and was a finalist to be hired for the position, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson.
Thomas had already served as an official for NFL preseason games, but she will become the first female referee to become a full-time NFL employee. Shannon Eastin technically became the first woman to work an NFL game when she served as a replacement official during the league’s 2012 referee lockout, CBS Sports notes.
A native of Brandon, Mississippi, Thomas began officiating in 1996 and was the first woman to serve as an NCAA football referee. She worked games in college football’s Conference USA for nearly a decade and has also spent time as an official at NFL team minicamps, according to Pro Football Talk.
“Being raised with brothers I’m just one of the guys, I guess,” Thomas told Cleveland.com last June, when she served as an official at Cleveland Browns minicamp. “I don’t try to be one of the guys. I am a female, but I don’t look at myself as just a female. I look at myself as an official. With their respect and the rest that I have for them, it just doesn’t feel like it’s a male-dominated profession.”
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s head of officiating, said in 2013 that Thomas had been in the league’s referee “pipeline for a while.” But he said at the time that Thomas would have to get used to calling games at the NFL level before she would be promoted to full-time duty.
“It’s similar from when a player jumps from college to the NFL,” Blandino told the Associated Press. “Getting used to that type of speed is important.”