Sarah Thomas Is an Inspiration to All Girls and Women in America

Debbie Walker

The lady who changed sports history.

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Do you know of anyone that crossed sexist barriers in the male-dominated arena of sports? Sarah Thomas has been doing it her entire life. She is one strong lady.

But who is the real Sarah Thomas?

After following her career, I realized she is a married mom of three with a life-long love of sports. Then on February 7, 2021, Sarah broke sports history to become the first full-time NFL female referee in a Super Bowl!

Regular Mom

Sarah Thomas is more than a Super Bowl referee. She is a married mom of two boys and one girl. She often reflects on the values her parents passed down to her.

“My mother and father instilled in me to never depend on anyone. I am responsible for my actions alone.” — Sarah Thomas

Her drive has led to success. Hers alone. She is a role model for girls in sports today. Sarah’s drive, determination, and hard work have paved the way for other women and girls to achieve their sports dreams.

“When I went to college, my Mom pinned an angel on my shirt and said, ‘Even though I won’t be standing beside you, I am with you in spirit.’ Right before I went to the Super Bowl, she found the angel and sent it to me with a note to pin the angel on my uniform. She told me the same thing.”
“The night before the Super Bowl, I read the note and cried. Then I listened to the song, I Shall Rise, and got chills. I knew with her beside me I will rise a thousand times.”

But when did her sports journey start?

Sarah started officiating games in 1996 in Pa, Mississippi. In an interview with the Boys and Girls Club of America, Sarah tells us she was the only girl in her family and on sports teams.

She was working in a male-dominated field, but that didn’t bother her. Her passion for sports was behind the drive to referee while overcoming gender barriers. She never thought about being the only female in the NFL because she was always the only girl.

Meanwhile, she became well known in referee circles as smart and sharp. Soon Sarah was working school baseball, basketball, and football games all around her state.

Given her background as an athlete and knowledge of the games, she was becoming a rising star with praises from coaches alike.


Sarah began her college basketball career at the University of Mobile, where she graduated with a degree in communications in 1995. Looking to remain involved in sports, she leaped at the opportunity to attend a meeting for aspiring football officials with her brother the following year.

In 2006, Gerry Austen, a respected referee, hired Sarah to come on staff and she became the first woman (again) to work a college football game. In 2009, she moved on to a bowl game, the Little Ceasars Pizza Bowl, in a Big Ten stadium.

NFL Career

Later, in 2015, the NFL made the big announcement that they hired Sarah as a full-time official. She began her career as a line judge and worked her way to a down judge in a play-off game in 2017.

Let me explain the difference between the judges. According to Sporting News:

"When Thomas began her NFL career, she served as a line judge. Since 2017, she’s been a down judge. That means she lines up along the line of scrimmage and watches for, among other things, offside and illegal contact by defensive backs on receivers near the line.
The following are the down judge’s roles on each play type:
Run plays: Watches for offside or encroachment; monitors sideline; determines when/if a runner is out of bounds; marks runner’s forward progress
Pass plays: Watches nearest receiver for first seven yards of his route until he is clear the point of legal contact for defensive backs; watches for pass interference
Special teams: Watches for offside and encroachment; rules on penalties involving blockers and defenders on trick plays."

Her game day routine shows preparation for perfection. Sarah heads to the stadium about 3 hours before kickoff. After changing, she does pushups and crunches.

Sarah has to be ready to run between 6 and 7 miles a game. When the game is over, she watches to check her performance on the field.

Sarah Thomas lives sports.

Who is Sarah Thomas? A regular woman who broke through gender barriers to become a beloved symbol of hope to girls and women in sports today!

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She writes honest and authentic articles to inform, encourage, inspire, and empower others to lead fulfilled lives. She is a writer, editor, and podcaster.


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