NFL’s first female referee: “Do what you love”


Sarah Thomas speaks to college women about her journey to become the NFL’s first female official.

By Leslie Fields

Advertisement for the event hosting Sarah Thomas put on by Delta Gamma Leadership. Photo by Leslie Fields

People packed into the Brown Lupton University Union Ballroom Nov. 13 to hear an inspirational message from the NFL’s first full-time female official about overcoming hardships in her profession.

Sarah Thomas became the NFL’s first female referee in 2015. Now, she is in her fifth season as an official, but being a woman in a male-dominated field comes with its battles.

Thomas never was one to back down from a challenge, no matter what adversity she faced.

She said her passion for sports led her to be the only girl on an all-boys basketball team. However, as she progressed through junior high, she was prevented from moving past the “B-team” due to her gender.

“Too many times in our society, we think about why we cannot do things,” Thomas said.

Lauren Julius, a sophomore business and graphic design major, said society’s expectations and stereotypes can hold back women.

“Sometimes, everyone expects a woman to fail,” Julius said. “It can be really hard to break past the stereotypes and barriers that women have placed on them.”

Photo of the large crowd listening to Sarah Thomas. Photo by Leslie Fields

Every day, Thomas had to break various barriers and stereotypes placed on her.

“When I was selected to be an official for the NFL, I saw my name on the roster as SB Thomas,” Thomas said. “It didn’t say anything about me being a woman. I want to be looked at as an official, not a female official.”

Along the journey, Thomas learned to not look for recognition in the things that she does.

“In society, a boss is always going to be looking for a title, but a leader is always going to be looking for the people,” Thomas said. “Do not try and prove people wrong and start believing in yourself and the recognition will come.”

Josie Peterson, a business major, said she was inspired by how Thomas went for what she wanted with the right intention.

“She did not do what she does for the recognition of being the first female referee. She just saw what she wanted and did not hold back,” Peterson said. 

Julius said she found Thomas’ humility interesting as well.

“I thought it was interesting that she had this amazing role, but she did not care to brag about the fact that she was the first female official,” Julius said. 

Thomas said she stays away from seeking recognition by doing what she loves. 

“Do it because you love it,” Thomas said. “You ladies are just starting your journeys, start with doing what you love.”