Things have been changing all over the National Football League in the past couple of months. Changes have been made in what constitutes a catch and new consequences with drug use, but the biggest change in my opinion? Hiring the first female full time referee.
Last week, Sarah Thomas, a Mississippi mother of three and pharmaceutical representative, was officially hired to be a full time referee in the NFL.
Thomas will serve as a line judge and is among nine officials who will be full time refs for the first time next season.
Before you start asking yourself, “What? A woman on the football field?” here are some of the facts: Thomas has been officiating football for 19 years and has most recently been working with Conference USA. She officiated a Rice-Northwestern game in 2011 and was the first woman to referee in a Big Ten stadium the first to call a bowl game back in the 2009 Little Ceasers Pizza Bowl. Thomas is also among one other female to officiate an NFL game, Shannon Eastin officiated a game back in the 2012 referee lockout.
In an interview with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, Thomas stated that the biggest transition she’ll feel is going from college to the pros. Not once did she say that she is concerned that she will be treated differently because she will be the only female official, or that she’s afraid to be among the “brotherhood” that is NFL referees. She told Cowherd, “I’m not different than any other official out there. Yes this is a first as far as for females but I’m out there to get a job done.”
Although she may not think so, this is still a massive step for women in the world of professional sports.
Aside from the hateful responses from people hiding behind their computer screens commenting on articles about her hire, Thomas has received backlash from within the league. Sen’Derrick Marks, a defensive lineman for the Jacksonville Jaguars claims that her hire is just the NFL pulling a publicity stunt, comparing it to Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted. Her response to Marks’ comment was: “This has been a journey I have been on, this has been something I’ve been involved in for almost 20 years, I’m just looking forward to being an official and moving on.”
Growing up, I was always around sports. Whether I was playing them or watching them they made up a large portion of my life. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that a majority of the officials for my volleyball games were male. One time, while sitting at the score table at a boys’ volleyball game I overheard the refs talking about the certification process of becoming a volleyball ref and how they had never even played before. This comment alone silences any comments toward Thomas that “she’s a woman, she’s never played before and won’t know that much about the sport.” Being an official simply means knowing how the game is played and how the game shouldn’t be played. It has nothing to do with gender.
I’ve been excited for football season to start up again since February 2, and I’m even more excited to see how she does and for the people that disapprove of her to take back everything they’ve said once they see how legitimate she is.
Olivia Mulvihill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org