Sarah. Thomas. Remember her? I briefly mentioned her in 2013 when there was a bit of speculation that the NFL might name her as the first full-time female referee in the NFL. Well, that time has come! Last week, after she spent the last two years officiating pre-season and training camp practices, Thomas was named the League’s first full-time female referee. Pretty dope right? Well not everyone seems to think so. Sen’Derrick Marks, of the Jacksonville Jaguars, told TMZ that her hiring was all a publicity stunt, eerily similar (in his humble opinion) to Michael Sam situation. His exact words to TMZ were, “It’s just like the Michael same situation—if he wasn’t gay, he would have gone undrafted. Instead, the league drafts him because I think they are trying to monopolize every aspect of the world […Of the world, Craig! Not just the city, the world]. The same thing with a female ref, for the league, it’s great publicity. The NFL is all about monopolizing every opportunity.” Would it have been so very difficult for Mr. Marks to simply say congratulations and that he hoped Thomas would be up for the intense NFL season? Or how difficult would it have been to say, no comment? Instead, Mr. Marks chose to reduce Thomas’ accomplishment to a mere publicity stunt. Haters gon’ hate.
While I got a serious chuckle out of Mr. Mark’s comical and bizarre belief that his employer is trying to “monopolize every aspect of the world,” his attempt to explain away Thomas’ career promotion as a simple publicity stunt really does suck. Thomas’ career shows that she is very capable and deserving of her new position. She’s been at this refereeing thing since 1996 when she became the first female in Mississippi to officiate a Division I-A high school football game. By 2007 she made it to the big leagues when she became a referee for Conference USA. In two years she would become the first woman to officiate a bowl game when she was selected for the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl. Then in 2010, and again in 2014, Thomas officiated the Conference USA championships. Beyond Conference USA, Thomas has worked as a referee in two Senior Bowls and worked with the United Football League. That’s almost 20 years of refereeing experience with plenty of the time being spent in high-pressure situations. As if refereeing in the male-dominated Division I and NFL don’t provide enough high-pressure situations, Thomas holds down gigs as a wife, mother of three and a pharmaceutical representative. I mean, it really doesn’t get any more amazing than that.
I really look forward to seeing Thomas in action this upcoming season. Her promotion is absolutely a win for women in sports, and I have no doubt that she is more than capable of being successful in the majors. While it would be great if Marks were her one and only hater, we all know that’s not the case. Thomas will face skeptics, doubters, naysayers, haters—whatever you want to call them—at every turn she takes as one of the NFL’s line judges. She’ll get flack from men who think that women shouldn’t be calling a man’s game. She’ll hear from disgruntled fans who never think the refs get the calls right. And she’ll probably even hear from women who don’t quite agree with her hair and makeup choices. But no matter how the haters choose to hate, something tells me that Thomas knows a thing or two about shaking the haters off. Best of luck Sarah!!