Working as an official in sports is one of the hardest jobs in the country. The cheers are faint when a call is correct, you can receive death threats when a call is wrong and the best day you’ll ever have is when no one notices you’re around.
It’s a tough work environment, but it’s one that the first female NFL referee Sarah Thomas has flourished in.
Thomas, 41, got her start in the officiating world in 1996, moved on to college football’s Conference USA in 2007 and for the upcoming NFL season, she will become the NFL’s first female referee. The pharmaceutical sales rep who hails from Mississippi plans on keeping her job while she’s working on NFL game days to be able to provide for her family, a husband along with three children.
Until the NFL season starts, Thomas is in a rare position to be able to talk to the media and since the announcement, she’s been making her rounds and giving us a little insight into the sometimes-confusing world of NFL officiating. Especially when it comes to how she may or may not be treated compared to her male counterparts.
Talking to Good Morning America, Thomas said it was a “shock” when she was told she had to wear her hair in a pony tail in order to officiate games. While she obliged, she put her foot down when the boss tried to make her go sans-makeup saying
“When he did say, ‘No makeup,’ I was like, ‘You’re crossing the line there. I’ve got to wear makeup. But, I get it. Gerald Austin, the supervisor of Conference USA, just wanted me to blend in and, if you notice, there’s not many guys with facial hair.”
Another interview Thomas participated in occurred on the Dan Patrick show where she touched on a variety of interesting topics. Here are some of the key takeaways:
DP: How long has becoming an NFL official been a goal of yours?
Sarah: It wasn’t a goal in the beginning because as an official, you’re just trying to get through one game and one play at a time. But I also said if the National Football League called, I wouldn’t turn them down.
When you got the phone call from the NFL, what was it like?
It’s exciting when you see area code “212” pop up on your phone this time of year. I don’t know if during the season that I want to see it [area code] because it might mean something different. But [at] this time of year it’s definitely worth picking up the phone and listen to Dean Blandino [vice president of NFL officiating] say, “Welcome to the NFL.”
Do you want to be known as a pioneer or is it best that no one knows the name of “that female official” because it means you’re doing your job? What’s the compliment for you?
Well, it’s obvious this is a first and I cannot take that away and nor do I want to downplay it because it’s meaningful to a lot of people. But when you officiate football, we all want to go unnoticed. And it’s truly a mindset of officials that when we’re on the field, the best game we can work is the one we can leave and nobody knew we were there. I’m tellin’ ya, I’ve worked several games and they didn’t even know a female was out there so I just wanna blend in. But do I recognize what’s happened? Absolutely.
Did you ever have college players say “Excuse me” or “Sorry for my language?”
No not really but I have them [players] call me sir and then apologize for that [laughs].
How physical of a job is it? Have you ever been run over?
Demanding. It’s very [physically] demanding. Look at these athletes! I haven’t been run over but I have been flipped in the air. But I got up.
What are the next few months all about for you?
Preparation. Preparation. Preparation. There’s no offseason in officiating. You’re constantly looking film, talking to mentors and other game officials when you’re not on the field. We’re in the middle of doing quizzes now that started in February. Of course training and working out, that’s all part of it. And then clinics and training camps and mini camps.
BTW, Dez Bryant, was that a catch?
Well, I can tell ya Dan that we’re just the enforcers of the rules.
Come on Sarah, you already sound like an official!
Because I am one, Dan.
Listen to the full interview below…
via Dan Patrick
Featured image via Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports