Prior to this month, if you were a female NFL fan attending a game at a stadium or flipping though games on TV, the only women you would see on the field were television sideline reporters and a dozen or so cheerleaders in tight clothing. However, now you can expect to see another woman roaming on the field. Not on the sideline, but in the game amongst the players.
In a revolutionary move, the NFL is hiring Sarah Thomas as its first permanent female official in its 95-year history. Thomas, 41, a Mississippi native, was a former referee at the Division I level for Conference USA football games. She has previously officiated NFL preseason games, working as a line judge for preseason games and working the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts minicamps.
Thomas does not label herself as a trailblazer despite the number of firsts on her football resume.
“If I am there permanently next year as a full-time official it would just be tremendous,” Thomas, who is married and a mother of three, told USA TODAY last June. “I’ve always said as far as breaking the gender barrier, you never set out to do that.”
It’s difficult not to view Thomas as a trailblazer considering she was also the first woman to officiate a Division I bowl game when she was selected for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Marshall and Ohio in 2009. She also became the first woman to officiate an NCAA game in 2007.
A source familiar with the hiring of Sarah Thomas told USA Today, “She is very football savvy; she worked in Division 1 for seven years. She has great instincts on the field. She has very good knowledge of the rules. And the most important thing is she has a very good understanding of the spirit of the game in which the rules need to be applied. She is capable of applying them as the game is played.’
All the facts coming from this story seem to surmise that the NFL made this move for diversification reasons. But the question has to be asked, in the wake of the recent subpar handling of domestic violence cases within the NFL, was this hire just a publicity move by the league to help clean up its image with the public?
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks certainly seems to think so. Marks speculated in an interview with TMZ that Thomas’s hiring was a publicity stunt “the NFL is all about monopolizing every opportunity… I hope it works out for her.”
Do you think this is a publicity move by the NFL to clear up its image?