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Sarah Thomas: 10 things to know about the Super Bowl’s first female official

Thomas, in her sixth season as an NFL official, will work as a down judge for Sunday’s game.
NFL down judge Sarah Thomas (53) is seen during an NFL football game between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)
NFL down judge Sarah Thomas (53) is seen during an NFL football game between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson) [ MATT PATTERSON | Associated Press ]
Published Feb. 2

Good thing Sarah Thomas will be wearing shoes Sunday at Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl 55. She’s about to break another glass ceiling.

Thomas, 47 of Pascagoula, Miss., will become the first female official to work a Super Bowl.

“Being granted the honor of working a Super Bowl means you finished top of your position,” Thomas said. “If you get the call to work a Super Bowl, that’s awesome. But just being selected for it, can’t say it was a goal. My goal is just to be No. 1 in my position.”

Thomas has worked for six seasons in the NFL and been an official since 1999. Sunday, she’ll work as a down judge for the NFL’s championship game.

“Her elite performance and commitment to excellence has earned her the right to officiate the Super Bowl,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations.

Here are 10 things to know about Thomas heading into the game:

  • She graduated from the University of Mobile (Ala.) after finishing her collegiate basketball career as an academic All-American. She ranks fifth in the school’s history in steals (192), and in three seasons she logged 779 points, 411 rebounds and 108 assists.
  • She started officiating in 1999 (at a varsity high school football game) and worked her way up to the college level, where she was hired by Conference USA in 2007.
  • She joined the NFL in 2015 as the league’s first full-time female official and made her debut in the Chiefs-Texans game on April 8.
  • She earned high praise from New Orleans coach Sean Payton after officiating some training camp practices for the Saints. In 2015, Payton told ESPN, “She’s ready. She’s gonna do well. It’s not because it sounds good or it’s a PR move. We’ve watched her grow, and she’s gonna be outstanding. She’s got the right demeanor. She’s sharp.”
  • She was making history long before her Super Bowl debut. In 2007, she was the first female official to work a major college football game (Memphis-Jacksonville State). And in 2018, she was the first female to officiate an NFL playoff game (Chargers-Patriots).
  • Officiating football games isn’t her only gig. She also works in marketing for an in-home hospice company in Pascagoula, Miss.
  • In 2017, she took a hit officiating the 2016 Packers-Vikings game on Christmas Eve that resulted in two broken bones in her wrist. Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph caught a pass and Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett made the tackle. Burnett’s helmet hit Thomas’ wrist, which was against her stomach, and the players sent her flying backward on the sideline. Thomas was put in concussion protocol as a result of the hit but returned to finish the game with a broken wrist.
  • She has officiated 92 games in her NFL career, including three playoff games. Five of those games featured Kansas City, and six included Tampa Bay. Thomas was actually a line judge for the Saints-Bucs NFC division playoff game.
  • She is known as the first full-time female official in the union, but she isn’t the first woman to officiate an NFL game. Shannon Eastin worked the Lions-Rams game on Sept. 9, 2012, during the officials’ labor strike. Eastin was hired as a replacement during the lockout.
  • In April 2015, she was asked how she would respond to angry players and coaches. “Silence can never be misquoted,” she said. “I want to be as professional as I can. I try to carry myself that way. The first form of rejection at any level is being ignored, so I will address them in a professional manner, and we usually move on.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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