Report: NFL hires referee Sarah Thomas full-time

Pascagoula High graduate Sarah Thomas has reportedly been hired by the NFL as a full-time referee, according to a report by the Baltimore Sun.

The Los Angeles Times reports Thomas will be among eight new officials for the 2015 season.

Thomas has been a trailblazer for female officials, and Friday’s news is just the latest milestone for the Coast native.

Thomas began officiating for Conference USA in 2007 as a line judge — a position she still holds — and two years later became the first woman to officiate a bowl game, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Marshall and Ohio.

Last summer she joined the NFL’s Officiating Development Program, worked the New Orleans Saints’ training camp and then was a line judge Aug. 16 in the preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots.

“I set out to do this and get involved in officiating not having any idea that there were not any females officiating football,” Thomas told NFL Network at the time. “Being a former basketball player (at the University of Mobile), you saw female officiating all the time. So, no, I don’t feel like a pioneer.”

While trying not to stand out — Thomas tucks her long, blonde hair under her cap when she works games — the Coast native has been noticed for other reasons.

“She’s just like all the rest of the guys, and that’s what we’re interested in,” veteran official Walt Coleman told the Sun Herald last summer. “Somebody that can officiate football games, because when you’re out there, and there’s just seven of you out there, nobody else is on your team. Nobody else is on your side.

“You’re out there all by yourself, and we all depend on each other.”

Added Dean Blandino, vice president of officiating for the NFL: “The way she carries herself, her decisiveness and how with all this press and all that’s going on, it doesn’t take her away from what she’s here to do, which is her job.” 

Thomas first broke onto the football officiating scene in 1996 when she became the first woman to officiate a Class A high school game in Mississippi.

In her time as an official, Thomas has also worked the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and spent two seasons with the United Football League.

Just last Saturday, Thomas officiated Southern Miss’ first spring scrimmage.

Pro Football Talk reports the NFL is not expected to comment on the Baltimore Sun’s report until after the holiday weekend.

“The 2015 roster of officials has not yet been finalized,” the league office said in response to the report, according to PFT. “When it is, the new officials for 2015 and the entire roster will be announced.”

Although the first female to officiate an NFL game was technically Shannon Eastin, who was hired in 2012 as a replacement official during the lockout, Thomas is the first woman to be hired full-time.

In addition to Thomas, head linesman Maia Chaka also participated in the NFL’s development program last season.

Thomas currently lives with her family in Brandon and holds a day job as a pharmaceutical sales rep.

Calls to Thomas were not returned Friday.