History will be made in the NFL this fall. The league has reportedly hired Sarah Thomas to be a full-time official. Thomas will be the NFL’s first full-time on-field official, and the push to break that barrier has been in the works for years. Thomas, of course, has already broken the gender barrier in the world of football. She was the first female ref to work an NCAA game back in 2007.
As reminded by our friends over at Pro Football Talk, Thomas will not be the first woman to serve as an official for an NFL game. That distinction goes to Shannon Eastin, who worked as a replacement ref in 2012. Thomas was the first woman to officiate a major college football game when she took the field wearing the zebra stripes for a 2007 game between Memphis and Jacksonville State after being hired by Conference USA. At the end of the 2009 season Thomas again made history by becoming the first woman to officiate a college football bowl game. Thomas was assigned to work the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit between Marshall and Ohio. In 2013, Thomas was part of the first bowl officiating crew to feature two women. She is quite the trailblazer.
In2011 Thomas was noted as the first woman to officiate in a Big Ten stadium when Northwestern hosted Rice. Thomas has been climbing the ladder of football officiating since then, with the possibility of reaching the NFL continuing to grow. She has since worked in training camps with NFL teams and she has been on the short list for the NFL before, but now the opportunity is finally coming.
The NFL could use this sort of publicity as well after a season full of off-field controversy relating to NFL players and domestic assault against women. Some might think this is a publicity stunt, but Thomas has been widely regarded as a good official over the years and has been working hard for this chance. Coincidence or not, it is about time for the NFL to take that next step, and the college football world should thank Thomas for her work already done.