Sarah Thomas joined the NFL officiating ranks on Friday and in turn, becomes the league’s first full-time female official.
Thomas, who played basketball and became an Academic All-American while at the University of Mobile, joins seven other new official hires due to the retirement of four referees at the conclusion of the 2014 season.
She brings officiating experience from the high school and college level including with Conference USA. Meanwhile, her NFL ties date back to 2013 when she was one of 21 candidates identified as a potential officiating hire by the league back in 2013.
Her hire will serve as one of the more compelling storylines heading into the 2015 season for a few reasons. The timing of the move makes it an interesting call by The Shield from a couple of standpoints.
First, it’s going to appear to some that this is a response to the maelstrom of poor press it received last year and the alleged overall disregard for its female fanbase. Secondly, even if that is taken out of the equation, there is going to be a minority of players and fans that will not take the presence of Thomas as serious or legitimate.
Exhibit A came yesterday in the wake of the Thomas announcement from Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Sen’Derrick Marks. He believed the NFL is doing little more than putting together a publicity stunt.
“It’s just like the Michael Sam situation — if he wasn’t gay, he would have gone undrafted,” Marks said. “Instead, the league drafts him because I think they are trying to monopolize every aspect of the world . . . the same thing with a female ref. For the league, it’s great publicity. The NFL is all about monopolizing every opportunity.”
Thomas will be under the microscope from the jump to show her appointment isn’t a stunt but a move to improve the league’s somewhat notorious officiating based off of a successful officiating career to date.
Thus, here is a quick look at her credentials:
- Thomas started her officiating career in 1996 and officiated her first high school football game in 1999.
- Based off the recommendation from two NFL scouts, Gerry Austin, a former NFL referee, hired Thomas to work at the college football level for Conference USA in 2007.
- She worked the Little Caesars Bowl between Marshall and Ohio during the 2009 season – becoming the first female to officiate a bowl game.
- During 2013, Thomas officiated a series of New Orleans Saints scrimmages.
Perhaps, Austin best summed his thoughts on Thomas’s ability in a 2009 New York Times article.
“They have got to look at her,” Austin said. “She’s too good.”
Per Austin’s comments, she should be judged by her ability and not by a perceived publicity stunt by the league.