The NFL has its first full-time female game official.
Sarah Thomas, who has worked exhibition games, will be a line judge for the 2015 season, the league announced Wednesday. The 41-year-old Thomas was in the league’s officiating development program in 2013 and ’14 and worked some team minicamps last year.
She’s already broken ground in the officiating field as the first woman to work college games in 2007. She was the first female official on the FBS level and the first to officiate a bowl game, the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
“I am a female, but I don’t look at myself as just a female,” Thomas said last June while working a Cleveland Browns minicamp. “I look at myself as an official.”
Shannon Eastin worked regular-season NFL games in 2012 as a replacement official, making her the first woman to do so in any capacity. She also was a line judge.
Thomas, a former college basketball player, was inspired to become an official in the 1990s when she attended a meeting with her brother, Lea. In 1996, Thomas became the first woman to officiate in a Division 1-A high school football game in Mississippi.
Just under a decade later, she began officiating college games when she was hired by Conference USA, working as a line judge and head linesman. She also has worked the Senior Bowl, the Fight Hunger Bowl, the Medal of Honor Bowl, and the Conference USA championship game in 2010 and 2014.
Thomas officiated two seasons in the United Football League, which is now out of business.
Nine first-year officials were announced Wednesday. The group includes side judge Walt Coleman IV, the son of NFL referee Walt Coleman. The Colemans will become the third active father-son officiating duo, joining Ed and Shawn Hochuli and Steve and Brad Freeman.
The other new officials are line judge Kevin Codey from the American Athletic Conference; head linesmen Hugo Cruz of Conference USA and Bart Longson of the Pac-12; umpire Clay Martin of C-USA; side judges Aaron Santi of the Pac-12 and Jabir Walker of the SEC; and field judge Shawn Smith of the Big Ten.
Off the field, Thomas is a pharmaceutical representative. She said last June her two sons and one daughter see nothing extraordinary about her football job.
“They just know mom officiates and it’s nothing foreign to them or pioneering or anything,” she said. “I do this.”