The National Football League recently hired its first ever permanent female referee. Sarah Thomas never viewed herself as a pioneer even now that she is about to break the gender barrier as the NFL’s first permanent woman official.
At age 41, Thomas is not new to the sports world. A former point guard in high school and college, Thomas has never viewed herself as different. But when she started her rapid ascent in the officiating world first as a replacement ref during the 2012 lockout and then working NFL preseason games this past year, she began turning heads.
The percentage of all people who go on to become professional referees in the US is a staggering 0.0003% according to the latest from SportsStats.com. This is a 10% increase from 2001. Although the overall number of pro officials is on the rise, this is merely due to rising inflation. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell noted that “the rise in our officiating crew is also due to a general apathy among refs to even show up to games. We hired Sarah in part to whip our guys into shape.”
The first female official to work in the NBA was hired last year, begging the question about whether or not there was pressure from the NFL to make an impulse hire. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dismissed this claim: “we loved Sarah from the get-go. She has been with us for three years now and here work ethic is among the best we’ve seen.” With both the NBA and NFL having a combined two female officials, this brings the total percentage of female referees in both leagues to 2%, a whopping increase from last year’s 0%.
In a recent study from the National Association of Career Development, the profession “sport referee” was ranked as the #97 most popular career path nationwide when the test was administered to 4th graders. The study listed 100 careers and asked students a series of multiple choice questions in arriving at their most desirable career path. This study suggests that virtually no one wants to become a professional referee. No one. But who knows; maybe Sarah Thomas will inspire other women to make the leap into professional sports officiating soon.