She wants to be known for being great at her job, not for being a woman.
On Wednesday, the NFL named Sarah Thomas as its first full-time female referee – one of nine new refs promoted by the league. And while Thomas is honored to be a trailblazer, that’s hardly the first thing on her mind.
“I know I’ve got a job to do, and I’ve got to be great at it,” the Mississippi native, 41, told NBC’s Today show on Thursday.
The mother of three says she was “almost speechless” when she got the phone call from league officials, adding with a laugh: “A lot of people that know me would find that hard to believe.”
But having worked her way up from pee-wee games to NCAA bowl games – she spent the last eight years officiating Conference USA college games – she knows she’ll ultimately be judged on her ability, not on her gender.
“I’m just out doing a job,” she says. “It’s meaningful to a lot of people, and I’m honored for that. But that’s not why I set out to do this, to break a gender barrier of any sort. I just did it because I loved officiating.”
Some have said Thomas’s promotion is a publicity stunt, as the league comes off a horrendous year marred by domestic violence scandals. But Thomas knows she’s there on merit.
“I’ve been an official for almost 20 years. This hasn’t been an overnight sensation,” she says.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was among those publicly supporting Thomas at a press conference on Wednesday.
“We had her in the preseason last year, and she did a good job. She’s got to be one of the better [refs] we have,” he said. “It’s about time. Get these guys straightened out a little bit, get these gals in there. She’s a good ref, so it was a good choice.”
So, will Thomas be nervous for her first game?
“I’m not nervous, really,” she says. “I’m just making sure that my fellow crew mates know I’m ready, and that the coaches and players know I’m there to do a job as an official.”