The NFL made history this weekend in the form of Sarah Thomas, the first female referee to officiate a playoff game.
According to HuffPo, Thomas officiated the Los Angeles Chargers game against the New England Patriots on Sunday. She served as the down judge. The day of novelty topped what, for Sarah Thomas, has been a career of novelties on top of novelties.
“The mother of three and former college athlete is no stranger to ‘firsts,'” reports HuffPo. “Thomas, now in her fourth season as an NFL referee, was selected as the NFL’s first female official in 2015. Prior to that, in 2011, she became the first female official to work in a Big Ten stadium. In 2009, she was the first woman to officiate a college football bowl game.”
Sarah’s title of “down judge” entered the NFL in 2017, when Senior Vice President of Officiating Al Riverton said the original term should be changed to something more gender neutral. “I just don’t think it’s right that we call anybody out by gender,” Riveron told SB Nation in 2017, adding, “especially in this day and age when we welcome everyone into football.”
Upon her entry into the NFL in 2015, Thomas told CBS News how her experience playing college basketball humbled her view toward officials and the responsibilities they carry.
“Maybe at times when they made a controversial call that I didn’t think was right, I voiced my opinion but I think they would get just as aggravated with me at times, too,” Thomas said. “When I started in football officiating, I had no idea the pride and the amount of time that they put into trying to get the game right.”
As to how she blends in with her male counterparts, Thomas said she often tucks her ponytail so as not to set herself apart. “To truly blend in,” Thomas said. “If I have a ponytail, you know, then I separate myself immediately. So tucking my hair, I blend in and I’m just another official.”
Despite her novel position in the NFL, Thomas has always maintained she officiates out of love for the game, not some desire for recognition, which she believes should come from quality work. “I’ve always said that if you do something because you love it and not try to prove somebody wrong or get recognition for it, the recognition probably just is going to happen,” she said in 2015.
Mississippi's own Sarah Thomas becomes the first woman on-field official in a postseason game.
What a time to be alive. Girls rule. pic.twitter.com/vVUoLCX9Aq
— Rachel Richlinski (@RachRichlinski) January 13, 2019
On being a woman in a predominantly male profession, Sarah Thomas says the trick is just projecting confidence while still accepting her femininity.
“As women, the way we carry ourselves speaks a lot. Field presence is what they talk about,” Thomas told SB Nation in 2017. “But you can still be a woman, you can be attractive, and whatever way you carry yourself speaks volumes to the reception. A man may feel as if may he can have his way or whatever, but I just think that when we carry ourselves with confidence, and walk into a room with confidence, the atmosphere kind of changes.”
Social media went abuzz on Sunday with accolades for Thomas, congratulating her for becoming the first woman to officiate one of the most important games in the NFL.
“You have to see it to be it, and little girls everywhere are watching. Way to go, Sarah Thomas!” tennis icon Bille Jean King wrote.
The official Patriots’ Twitter said on Sunday: “Proud to be part of history today, as Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate an @NFL playoff game.”
Shout out to Mississippian Sarah Thomas! First female NFL official to call a playoff game— Stay warm and call ‘em as you see ‘em. pic.twitter.com/N102OvVM4v
— Senator Roger Wicker (@SenatorWicker) January 13, 2019
Regardless of how many points the Pats hang on the Bolts in this game, the best storyline could be down judge Sarah Thomas, who made history. She became the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game. Salute, Sarah!
— Khalil P. Garriott (@khalilgarriott) January 13, 2019
Go get ‘em, Sarah Thomas. So proud! pic.twitter.com/5VXLN7DWcC
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) January 13, 2019
Officially a first.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 14, 2019
For the first time in history, a woman will officiate an NFL playoff game. You have to see it to be it, and little girls everywhere are watching. Way to go, Sarah Thomas! #LACvsNE #NFLPlayoffs https://t.co/jVR4SPUrnd
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) January 13, 2019