Sarah Thomas set to make her mark

With Women’s Sport Week running until June 7, BritViewNFL thought it would be a good time to shine a light on Sarah Thomas, who will become the first full-time female official in the NFL this season.

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 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

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 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

The 19-year veteran – who has spent the past eight years officiating in college football’s Conference USA – will work as a line judge as one of nine new officials for the 2015 campaign.

Thomas, a 41-year-old mother of three who works as a pharmaceutical sales rep, has been part of the NFL’s development programme for two years and has previously worked some preseason games, as well as mini-camp practices for the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts.

Now she is preparing to step up to the big leagues of American football officiating and when Thomas met with the world’s media recently, BritViewNFL was busy taking notes.

On receiving a telephone call from NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino telling her she was on the roster of NFL officials for 2015…

“That call came on Thursday April 2 at 10:47 a.m. and when I looked at my phone and it was area code 212 (New York) I was just praying that it was Dean Blandino on the other end of the line and it was. It was an honour for me to have received that call. I was speechless. It was a humbling experience.”

On whether she started out with the goal of becoming an NFL official and when that became her goal…

“No, I did not set out to become an NFL official. But, I guess the further I went along in the progression and getting into Conference USA, part of me thought that it may become a reality. The fact is, and this is so cliché, but officials will tell you that you work every game and you hope to be asked back to work the next one, or keep your schedule. So my goal has always been to be the best line judge I can be any time I’m given the opportunity to work and that if things progressed then they of course would and I always said I would not even turn down the phone call if it came and I definitely did not on April 2. So, my goal literally is to be the best official that I can be. I just feel honoured and blessed to be a part of the National Football League now.”

On whether she is treated any differently as a female official…

“As far as any challenges on the field with my gender I just have to express that there certainly have not been any. Everybody has been very professional and they look at me just like another official. The reaction that I’m expecting is that I’m just going to try and be another one of the officials. I know that I may stand out because I’m the first, or whatever it may be. As far as the players and the coaches, I’ve been around for a good little while and I think they know who I am. They just want to make sure that I can do the job as an official.”

On being perceived as a trailblazer in the NFL…

“I’ve always said I’m a female and I can’t change that and just because I love the game of football and officiating and I do honour the fact that a lot of people consider me a trailblazer but as far as being forced into the trailblazer role or being forced into this—I would say hobby before—but profession, I don’t feel that way and I’ve just been doing it truly because I love it and when you’re out there officiating, the guys don’t think of me as a female, they want me to be just like them, just being an official. And that’s what I’ve always set out to do.”

NFL referee Sarah Thomas, top left, works in the first half of an NFL preseason football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

NFL referee Sarah Thomas, top left, works in the first half of an NFL preseason football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

On not wanting to be the centre of attention when on the field…

“When I joined Conference USA, (officiating supervisor) Gerald Austin told me that I needed to tuck my hair to blend in because as officials we want to go as unnoticed as much as possible and he thought that if I walked out with a ponytail that there will be some stereotypes right off. That’s why he asked me to put my hair up and he also asked me not to wear any makeup but I told him he was crossing the line there. So hopefully I could still wear a little bit of makeup. And tucking my hair, I’ve just become accustomed to it. But I think my hair is the least of my concerns.”

On balancing her busy home and work life…

“I’m a pharmaceutical sales rep for Novo Nordisk, a diabetes care specialist. So I love what I do. I’ve been married 15 years and we have three beautiful kids. Bridley is 14, Brady is 11 and Bailey is two. My life these last few years has been a lot of travel but my family is accustomed to it. I have a tremendous support group at home, outside of my immediate family with friends and extended family. They’ve all helped me on this journey and they will continue to help.”

On being proud but also wanting to maintain a low profile as an official…

“I’m ecstatic but in terms of wanting to stick my chest out because I’m the first female, it’s the mindset of an official that you don’t want to be seen or noticed. My mind has been trained that way for 20 years. I know that this will hopefully open doors for anyone. Little girls or guys who think that maybe they can’t do something. That’s an aspect I don’t downplay at all. Am I ecstatic? Yes. But I’m still an official and that’s the mindset that I have.”

 

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