Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first female official, has spent 20 years on the field blazing her own path in the male-dominated world of football.
She says it was “a shock” when she was told she would have to wear her hair in a ponytail to “blend in” with the other male referees, but she fought back when she was told to take that a step further.
“When he did say, ‘No makeup,’ I was like, ‘You’re crossing the line there. I’ve got to wear makeup,’” Thomas said of a former boss at Conference USA, a collegiate-level conference.
“But, I get it,” Thomas said today on “Good Morning America.” “Gerald Austin, the supervisor of Conference USA, just wanted me to blend in and, if you notice, there’s not many guys with facial hair.”
Thomas, a 41-year-old mother of three, officiated college games since 2007 before getting called up the NFL this year. The Mississippi native says it was her Southern roots that gave her a love of sports but “extreme focus” that led her to make history.
“Be very driven and dedicated to your job, and training, just an immense amount of training,” Thomas said of what it takes to make it in the NFL. “Getting around a great group of officials, getting a mentor and I’ve been blessed to have that.”
Off the field, Thomas works as a pharmaceutical representative and describes herself as blessed to have the support of her family, which includes her husband, two sons and a daughter.
“This has been our journey. It’s just not my journey. It’s my husband’s journey. It’s my kids’ journey,” Thomas said. “They keep me humble.
“My husband sometimes says I’m drill sergeant at home, you know, making sure everything is just how it’s supposed to be, but it is our journey and they’re so supportive and I couldn’t do it without them,” she said. Having shattered the glass ceiling of the NFL, Thomas, who spent the past two NFL seasons officiating preseason games and training camp practices, has advice for others.
“I just say this, don’t go out to try to prove somebody wrong,” Thomas said. “Go and do things, whether you’re female or male, black or white, just do it because you believe in yourself and you know you’re there to do the job.”