Meet American Badass Sarah Thomas, in line to become the first of two female referees employed by the NFL
NEW YORK CITY — I am lifting (temporarily) a long-standing, self-imposed ban against NFL posts to talk about this historic moment, since it meshes very will with feminism.
By this time next year, the National Football League could have two very different faces blowing the whistles.
Sarah Thomas is in line to become the first fully employed female referee in the NFL, in chronological order. Shannon Eastin, who broke the gender barrier last season as a temporary official while union referees were locked out by owners, players and the league, is also among 35 officials in the NFL’s training pool and would become the second female ref employed full-time by the league.
“I didn’t set out to break a glass ceiling or a gender barrier,” said Mrs. Thomas, a 39-year-old from Brandon, Miss. “If you’re doing things because you love them, then things have a tendency to just kind of fall into place.”
“Sarah’s at the top of our scouting program,” said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, in a telephone interview. “Now we’re taking an even closer look as part of this developmental program to see who distinguishes themselves and give them a taste of the NFL speed, rules and mechanics.”
Thomas’s promotion to the NFL would be a “good positive first step that begins to reflect the gender dynamics of the NFL audience,” said Aine Duggan, president of the National Council for Research on Women. “It’s important for women to see themselves reflected on and off the field. Having a woman referee is a good step that begins to do that.”
“Her judgment on calls has graded out very high,” said Gerald Austin, the Conference USA officials’ coordinator, in a telephone interview. “Let the coaches coach the game, let the players play the game, but when there’s a call that needs to be made then have the wherewithal and courage to step up and make the call. She’s shown adeptness at knowing when you should pull the trigger.”
The National Basketball Association has used female referees since 1997, when Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner were hired. Major League Baseball has never had a woman umpire. NASCAR has never had a female flagman or a female official on pit road in the Sprint Cup Series.