Sarah Thomas, a 16-year veteran of grade school, high school, and college football games, could become the NFL’s first full-time female ref. She is one of 21 finalists in the NFL’s officiating development program, according to ABC, and is a top contenor for the next available slot.
“I’m excited if it was to become a reality,” Thomas said. “[But] just being here and part of the development program is exciting enough.”
“It’s just something that happened,” said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating. “She was in our pipeline for a while.”
NFL officials said that Thomas is the first female to make it onto NFL fields through the program as a ref. Last year during the ref lockout, Shannon Eastin was hired to ref a preseason and a regular-season game, but she couldn’t be hired permanently because of a conflict with her involvement in the World Series of Poker.
Sarah Thomas said that she never thought she would be officiating in the NFL and just wants to do the best job that she can do.
On the other hand, being a woman shouldn’t make a difference, she said.
“I don’t feel that it’s been harder for me because I’m a female,” she said. “I think that we are just out here working as officials. … I think just on our credentials, just as officials, I think that’s what moves us along, not because of our gender or our race.”
The biggest issue is the difference in the speed of the players.
“It’s similar from when a players jumps from college to the NFL,” Blandino said. “Getting used to that type of speed is important.”
Thomas has three children and works as a pharmaceutical representative.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.