Open main menu

Sarah Thomas (American football official)

Sarah Thomas (nee Bailey; born 1973)[2][3] is an American football official from the United States, and is currently an official for the National Football League (NFL). Thomas was the first woman to officiate a major college football game, the first to officiate a bowl game, and the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium. On April 8, 2015, Thomas was hired as the first full-time female official in NFL history,[note 1] and for the 2018 NFL season, she is on the officiating crew headed by referee Ronald Torbert.[4] She was originally assigned officiating uniform number 153 (as seen in many photos), but currently Thomas is a down judge with the NFL officiating uniform number 53, worn in past seasons by umpire Garth DeFelice, line judge Bill Reynolds, and field judge Frank Kirkland.

Sarah Thomas
Sarah Bailey

1973 (age 45–46)
Nationality United States
OccupationNFL official (2015–present)
Spouse(s)Brian Thomas (m. 2000–present)[1]

Personal lifeEdit

Thomas was born in 1973 in Pascagoula, Mississippi.[5][6] She attended Pascagoula High School, where she lettered five times in softball. She attended the University of Mobile on a basketball scholarship and was an academic all-American.[5]

Thomas resides in Brandon, Mississippi and is married with three children.[7]

Officiating careerEdit

Early yearsEdit

Thomas began her officiating career in 1996, when she attended a meeting of the Gulf Coast Football Officials Association. She worked her first varsity high school game in 1999.[5][8]

Conference USAEdit

In 2006, Gerry Austin, Conference USA's coordinator of officials who also refereed Super Bowls XXXI and XXXV, invited her to an officials' camp. Austin was impressed with her skills and hired her for the Conference USA staff.[5] In 2007, Thomas became the first woman to officiate a major college football game, working a game between Memphis and Jacksonville State.[9] Before that game, Austin said, "She came highly recommended by two NFL scouts. She has a good presence and demeanor. I feel like she has the ability and courage to make a call, and the guts to not make one, too."[9]

Bowl-game breakthroughEdit

During the 2009 season, Thomas was one of five female officials in major college football and the only one at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.[8] She was assigned to a crew and given a full schedule of 11 games.[8] At the end of the season, she was selected to work the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Marshall and Ohio, making her the first woman to officiate a bowl game.[9] Regarding her presence, Marshall running back and game MVP Martin Ward said "I noticed her before the game, but that was it. Once the game started, she was just doing the job that the line judge does in every game we play. It didn't matter that she was a woman at all."[10]

On November 12, 2011, Thomas became the first woman to officiate in a Big Ten stadium, working as a line judge when Northwestern hosted Rice.[11]

United Football LeagueEdit

Thomas has officiated United Football League games, and in 2010 worked the league championship game.

National Football LeagueEdit

In 2013, Thomas became one of 21 finalists in contention for a permanent NFL officiating position.[12]

Thomas worked New Orleans Saints scrimmages,[13] and was part of the NFL officiating development program, spending three days at the Indianapolis Colts minicamp.

On April 8, 2015, the NFL officially announced that Thomas would become the first permanent female official in NFL history.[note 1][14] Thomas made her NFL regular season debut in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on September 13, 2015, as part of Pete Morelli's crew as the line judge.[15]

On December 24, 2016, Thomas broke her wrist in a mid-game collision on the sideline of a Vikings-Packers game. After being looked at for a brief concussion protocol, Thomas returned and finished the game with the broken wrist.[16]

In 2017, Thomas moved to the down judge position. The change in the position name from head linesman coincided with the move in order to use a gender-neutral term.[17]

Thomas is the first woman to earn an on-field assignment for a playoff game. She was named to the crew for the game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers on January 13, 2019.[18] She was an alternate for the 2018 Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams Wild Card game. She did appear in a Super Bowl LIII commercial in 2019 for the NFL.[19]


  1. ^ a b Shannon Eastin was the first woman to officiate an NFL game as a temporary non-union official during the 2012 NFL referee lockout.


  1. ^ "SPORTS VICTORIES—Sarah Thomas: Believer, Wife, Mom, and NCAA Football Official". February 21, 2014. Archived from the original on August 17, 2015. Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  2. ^ Stephenson, Creg (May 23, 2014). "NFL: Pascagoula native Sarah Bailey Thomas not among 12 new officials hired for 2014". The Mississippi Press. Archived from the original on August 17, 2015. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  3. ^ Rockwell, Curtis (August 15, 2015). "NFL history was made Saturday night, and Pascagoula's Sarah Thomas was part of it". The Mississippi Press. Archived from the original on August 17, 2015. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d Drape, Joe (September 18, 2009). "Earning Her Stripes in College Football". New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  6. ^ "Pascagoula Woman Seeks Title of First Permanent Female NFL Official". Harald-Index. Aug 1, 2013.
  7. ^ McHugh, Rich (Aug 1, 2013). "Sarah Thomas Poised to Make NFL History as 1st Full-Time Referee". ABC News.
  8. ^ a b c Walker, Teresa M. (November 27, 2009). "Thomas shows the way for female referees". Associated Press, via Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c "Thomas will become first female referee in top tier of college football", September 14, 2007, from the AP newswire, via Accessed December 27, 2009.
  10. ^ "At Pizza Bowl, Thomas 1st woman to officiate bowl", from the AP newswire, via Yahoo! Sports, accessed December 27, 2009.
  11. ^ Hilbert, Evan (Nov 12, 2011). "Sarah Thomas Becomes First Woman To Officiate In Big Ten Stadium". Sports Illustrated.
  12. ^ McHugh, Rich (Aug 1, 2013). "Sarah Thomas Poised to Make NFL History as 1st Full-Time Referee". ABC News.
  13. ^ Busby, Renee (October 1, 2009). "University of Mobile alum first woman to referee I-A football". Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  14. ^ "NFL makes Sarah Thomas first full-time female official". Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  15. ^ Kerkhoff, Blair (September 13, 2015). "Sarah Thomas works Chiefs-Texans in first regular-season NFL game". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  16. ^ "NFL line judge Sarah Thomas takes big hit on sideline, tries to shake it off". Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  17. ^ Austro, Ben (June 16, 2017). ""NFL has a new name for the head linesman position: down judge"". Football Zebras. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  18. ^ "2019 NFL playoffs: Sarah Thomas to become first female official in postseason game". Sporting News. 2019-01-08. Retrieved 2019-01-08.
  19. ^ King, Peter (February 4, 2019). "How the NFL got all those players in on that Super Bowl commercial". MSN Sports. Retrieved February 4, 2019.