Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner made history in 1997 when they became the first female referees for the NBA. In 2014, the National Football League (NFL) could reach the same milestone.
Sarah Thomas, a 39-year-old Mississippi native, is one of the finalists in consideration for a permanent referee spot for the NFL. She has always been an athlete, playing both softball and basketball throughout high school and college. Thomas claims that she has never considered her gender to be an impediment regarding her success as a referee, noting that most of the time, players do not realize her gender until they hear her voice or see her with her long blonde hair at the conclusion of a game.
She is also a mother, and has to balance the needs of her family and her successful career. In a 2009 New York Times article she discussed how, "The spouses of her crew made her a maternity referee shirt” when she was pregnant with her sons and officiating high school football games. She said that her biggest concern is that her uniform fits correctly. During pregnancy was the only time she felt out of place.
NFL players seem to be reacting positively to the prospect of Thomas officiating. Lance Moore, a player for the New Orleans Saints, claimed, “It is pretty cool for a country that speaks so much about equality to have women, not only officiating the game, but at the highest level.” Another player, Roman Harper, said that, “As long as she is making the right calls, she will be hated like the rest of them.”
She is an inspiration because she never aimed to shatter gender expectations or be the first female referee, rather she has focused on being herself, as highlighted in her interview with ESPN.
We will have to wait a few years to see Thomas on Sunday Night Football, but for now, she is bringing positive publicity to a league that has been dominated by males for its entire history.