Changing the Game: First Female Official in NFL Playoff Game

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The Patriots victory over Los Angeles in the NFL divisional playoffs sent them to their record-setting eighth-straight conference championship game that took place yesterday in Kansas City. But honestly, they’re the Patriots. So what else is new?

What’s new is who’s on the crew. The officiating crew, that is.  

Sarah Thomas became the first female official to work a National Football League playoff game. It seems strange to us that it’s 2019 and she’s the first, but barriers must be broken, and Sarah is used to kicking down doors. The Mississippi native was a basketball standout in high school and college who turned her efforts to officiating football after graduation. Since then, Thomas has had no trouble going first.

She was the first woman to officiate a major college football game, the first female official to referee at the FBS level, and the first to work a major NCAA bowl game in 2009.

After a short stay at the United Football League, Sarah took her refereeing game to the big time, becoming the NFL’s first full-time female official in 2015.  

That may sound like a lot of “firsts,” but Sarah isn’t a newbie. She’s developed a reputation as a no-nonsense referee at multiple levels, and players and coaches alike have praised her steady temperament, decision making, and ability to handle difficult situations.  

Right from the start, Sarah’s presence has had an immediate and meaningful impact on the league. Head of Officiating Al Riveron changed the title of Sarah’s position from “Head Linesman” to “Down Judge,” citing a need for more gender inclusive titles as Sarah, and hopefully more women, become a regular part of the NFL’s officiating team.  

Last Sunday’s ground-breaking game drew the interest of a number of notable female athletes and celebs, chief among them another legendary barrier-breaker, tennis champion Billie Jean King, who spread the word of Sarah’s groundbreaking assignment via twitter.   

It’s a major step toward breaking down the “boys club” culture in football, and we think that’s Double Good for lots of reasons.

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