The NFL will be making history in this year’s Super Bowl with the first woman to officiate the big game.
After becoming an internet sensation in 2019 when she officiated her first playoff game, Sarah Thomas will be upping her string of novelties on February 7 when serving as the down judge for Super Bowl LV.
“Sarah Thomas has made history again as the first female Super Bowl official,” said NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent Sr. in a statement. “Her elite performance and commitment to excellence has earned her the right to officiate the Super Bowl. Congratulations to Sarah on this well-deserved honor.”
Despite her historic position, Sarah Thomas has largely remained out of the limelight, choosing to instead focus on her performance and what it means for the good of the game. She rose to prominence in 2019 when she officiated the Los Angeles Chargers game against the New England Patriots during the playoffs where she also served as the down judge.
Her 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.”
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.
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.”
The NFL also broke barriers last year in 2020 when Katie Sowers became the first woman coach to participate in the Super Bowl as the 49ers offensive assistant.
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