TAMPA BAY, Fla. – In 2015 Sarah Thomas joined the NFL and became the first full-time female official in the league. Now she will be the first woman to officiate the Big Game. This honor has been a long time coming for Thomas. Her officiating career began in the early 90s when she attended a high school officials meeting with her older brother Lea.
“I fell in love that moment,” Thomas said. “It felt that I could give back in a sense to just organized sports.”
Her advice to anyone interested in officiating football, is to start local.
“Find an association there and start up in grass roots where you live. Get involved in high school, in your junior highs or middle schools, peewees, Pop Warners and just go do it.”
In 1996 Thomas became the first female in Mississippi to officite a 1-A high school football game. In 2007 she was hired by Conference USA and just two years later she officiated the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
As part of the NFL Officiating Development Program, Thomas worked two seasons in the United Football League along with NFL preseason games and training camp practices. Before being assigned to the Big Game, she made history as the down judge in the 2018 Divisional Playoff Game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England Patriots.
She is very proud to be chosen to officiate the Big Game, but the honor wasn’t always on her radar.
“Just being selected for it, I can’t say it was a goal. My goal is just to be number one at my position,” Thomas said.
Thomas said she never set out to be the first anything throughout her officiating career and encourages women to get involved, but only if their heart is truly in it.
“There’s power in numbers and when you start having more and more and more females, no one’s doing it for the recognition. They are doing it because they love it,” she said.
Thomas says she also owes a lot of her success to the men that have motivated her during her time as an official.
“I have to pay tribute to the men too that walked this before me because there weren’t any women in college or in the NFL that I could look up to. If it hadn’t been for the men that accepted me and saw that I was doing it for the same reasons that they are, then I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Thomas will be in Tampa, Florida at Raymond James Stadium when the Big Game kicks off Sunday between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.