Vogue - This Sunday, Thomas will be the first woman to officiate the Super Bowl, her latest in a string of career firsts.
“Sarah Thomas has made history again as the first female Super Bowl official,” Troy Vincent Sr., the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said when announcing the game assignments last month, and disclosing that Thomas, as the down judge, would be part of the seven-person crew officiating Super Bowl LV. “Her elite performance and commitment to excellence has earned her the right to officiate the Super Bowl. Congratulations to Sarah on this well-deserved honor.”
“Being selected for this year’s Super Bowl in Tampa, and being the first female that has been selected [...] it means a lot to me,” Thomas, 47, told the NFL Network. “I have a precious little girl who is watching her mom—not just on the football field, but daily at home—and I want her to know, seeing it, believing it, [you] can do it.”
The NFL’s first female full-time official, a distinction she has held since 2015, Thomas does have previous postseason experience, working as part of the crew for the New England Patriots-Los Angeles Chargers AFC divisional playoff game in 2019. As with the Super Bowl, she was the first woman to get that assignment. (Thomas also worked the 2020 NFC Divisional playoff matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings.)
Thomas’s path to the Super Bowl began at the University of Mobile. In 1995, after finishing her college basketball career and graduating with a degree in communications, Thomas wanted to remain involved with sports. She happened to tag along with her older brother, Lea Bailey, then a high-school football referee, to an officiating meeting, and was immediately intrigued.
Sarah Thomas is a certified badass.
We all know how macho pro sports are in general. Football being the most by far. It's literal caveman shit.
For Sarah Thomas to have the goal of reaching the pinnacle in the toughest boys club on the planet and reaching it in just a few years is fuckin amazing.
And before you brush it off or demean the feat by chalking it up to "her being a woman" check yourself.
Thomas worked her ass off to get here.
NY Post- It has been a relatively meteoric rise for Thomas, a Mississippi native and mother of two teen boys and a young daughter. She entered the league in 2015, becoming the first full-time female official, and has continued to break gender barriers across the sport. In 2019, she officiated her first NFL playoff game.
“I say that all the time people think that Sarah Thomas just arrived on April 8 of 2015, but there’s so much more to my story, and that’s like with anyone,” she told “Bridge the Gap,” a healthcare focused podcast. “Every one of us have a story, and yes, I’m sitting here talking about all the good stuff. I mean there’s been many valleys that I’ve gone through.”
She was born into a sports family. Her paternal uncle was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and her aunt, Jill Upton, coached the 1973 USA World University Games basketball team, a squad that included legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Thomas, who has two brothers, played college hoops at the University of Mobile (Ala.), then joined a local men’s league. But she said after three years she got the boot because she was female. At the time, her older brother was officiating high school football and convinced her to attend a meeting with him. But there was a warning.
She has said her brother told her: “ ‘Sis, these are a bunch of old men set in their ways. You’re going to get a few strange stares.’ I was like, ‘It’s alright. I can handle it.’ ”
The man in charge asked if she was someone’s wife, then tried to steer her toward officiating women’s hoops. But Thomas, who was also a pharmaceutical rep, dug in her heels and started wearing zebra stripes in 1996, officiating her first varsity game in 1999.
She even continued throughout two pregnancies, working the clock, an off-field, but still accredited position. But around the decade mark, she considered giving it up, according to the podcast.
I saw a special ESPN ran on her this week but wasn't able to find it online, but they showed footage of her playing basketball in college at Mobile and then dominated in a men's league post-college. Then it showed her reffing high school games and keeping pace with kids running down the field. It was hilarious.
And it seems she's not just a former boss athlete, shes a pretty good person too, who is extremely grateful to the people who helped ger her where she is.
Upon learning of her historic assignment, Thomas, 47, placed a phone call to the man who first hired her for the college ranks.
“She was emotional when she was telling me,” Gerald Austin, a former NFL official and head of officiating for Conference USA, told The Post. “And the first thing I told her was, ‘Look, you’ve worked hard. You’ve had obstacles to overcome and you’ve earned it. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. I’m proud of you.’ ”
She paid her dues, loves the game, and appreciates the opportunity to inspire young girls like her daughter.
“I never set out to be the first in any of this,” she said. “But knowing the impact that I am having on not just my daughter, but young girls everywhere, women everywhere, when I get on that field and I take it all in, I know that I’m probably going to get a little teary eyed.”
As a brother to two younger sisters, I think this is really awesome.