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NFL Is Reportedly Hiring Its First Female Full-Time Official

Sarah Thomas calls holding during a preseason game between the Oakland Raiders and New Orleans Saints in 2013.
Michael Democker
The Times-Picayune/Landov
Sarah Thomas calls holding during a preseason game between the Oakland Raiders and New Orleans Saints in 2013.

Sarah Thomas has officiated football games in the NCAA and for the NFL's preseason and training camps. For the 2015 NFL season, she'll reportedly be a full-time official.

The news was broken this morning by Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson, who called it "a ground-breaking move." Thomas, 42, is a Mississippi native who has been widely regarded as a contender for a regular NFL contract.

We contacted the NFL to confirm the news, but the league says it won't discuss "the new officials for 2015" until it releases the full roster of officials for next season. In recent years, that roster has come out in May.

If the hiring proceeds as expected, it would be another in a line of milestones for Thomas, who in 2007 became the first woman to officiate a major NCAA football game. She has worked in Conference USA and has also been chosen to officiate bowl games.

"I know a lot of females are maybe inspired that there's a gender-barrier about to be broken. But I never set out to shatter the glass ceiling," Thomas said in 2013.

Thomas has been seen as working toward a landmark jump to football's elite level for years now. We mentioned her status as a top officiating candidate in our 2012 report on Shannon Eastin, who became the first woman to officiate an NFL game during the lockout of officials over a labor dispute.

In Mississippi, the Clarion-Ledger reports, "Born in Pascagoula, Thomas lives in Brandon with her family as she works a day job as a pharmaceutical sales representative."

The possibility that the NFL might make Thomas the first woman to work full-time as a game official was also recently anticipated by Football Zebras, an officiating news website. The site says an NFL source told it that "one or two female officials" would be added this year.

In recent years, the NFL has hired anywhere from seven to 12 officials before each season, replacing officials lost through retirement and attrition.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.