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Shortly after she was officially hired by the NFL in 2015, Sarah Thomas claimed in an interview with NFL Media she never set out to be a trailblazer. Yet that’s exactly what the 47-year-old is as the league’s first full-time female official.

NFL referees and all other officials are not full-time league employees, as they technically work part-time from May through the end of each season with a dark period in between. Thomas being distinguished as the first full-time female NFL official separates her from Shannon Eastin, who became the first female to officiate an NFL game when she was hired as a replacement official (line judge) during the NFL Referees Association lockout of 2012.

Thomas is now a five-year NFL officiating veteran after rising through the college ranks. A Pascagoula, Miss., native, she began officiating youth and high school football games in Mississippi after graduating from the University of Mobile. She was hired by Conference USA in 2007 and officiated college football games until she reached the pros in 2015.

MORE: Here’s how much money NFL officials make

Gerry Austin, a former NFL official and the supervisor of Conference USA’s officials who hired Thomas, explained to ESPN shortly after she graduated to the NFL what makes her successful in officiating.

“She understood that the rules of the game of football should be applied within the spirit of the game and not within the technical writing of the rules,” Austin said. “I’ve always (stressed) understanding the spirit of rules and don’t be technical. If there’s a call to be made, have the courage to make the call, and she fit within that framework.

“And she has great communication skills. She has the ability to calm the coach down and to explain whatever the coach is questioning. More times than not, a coach just wants to vent. We try to give him his 15-20 seconds to vent and then ask, ‘What’s your question?’

“That’s a good skill, and Sarah has that skill. Coaches have confidence in Sarah’s ability to officiate in our conference, and I think that’s what’s helped her and carried her over to where she’s in the NFL.”

Thomas began her NFL officiating career as a line judge. In 2017, she switched to down judge, which is the position she continues to hold in 2020. She did serve as head linesman in the second half of the 2018 season.

In 2020, Thomas is the down judge on 19-year veteran referee John Hussey’s crew. The down judge lines up on the sideline and looks directly down the line of scrimmage. He or she directs the chain crew and informs the referee of the down and also rules on sideline plays on the nearest half of the field. Below is what the down judge watches on run plays, pass plays and special teams plays.

Run plays: Watches for offside or encroachment; monitors sideline; determines when/if a runner is out of bounds; marks runner’s forward progress.

Pass plays: Watches nearest receiver for first seven yards of his route until he is clear the point of legal contact for defensive backs; watches for pass interference.

Special teams: Watches for offside and encroachment; rules on penalties involving blockers and defenders on trick plays.

Courtesy of Pro Football Reference, below is Thomas’ complete NFL officiating record through last season.

Sarah Thomas games as NFL official

Date Team Opponent Position
September 13, 2015 Houston Texans Kansas City Chiefs Line Judge
September 20, 2015 Oakland Raiders Baltimore Ravens Line Judge
September 27, 2015 Dallas Cowboys Atlanta Falcons Line Judge
October 12, 2015 San Diego Chargers Pittsburgh Steelers Line Judge
October 18, 2015 New York Jets Washington Redskins Line Judge
October 25, 2015 St. Louis Rams Cleveland Browns Line Judge
October 29, 2015 New England Patriots Miami Dolphins Line Judge
November 15, 2015 Baltimore Ravens Jacksonville Jaguars Line Judge
November 22, 2015 Chicago Bears Denver Broncos Line Judge
November 29, 2015 San Francisco 49ers Arizona Cardinals Line Judge
December 6, 2015 New England Patriots Philadelphia Eagles Line Judge
December 13, 2015 Kansas City Chiefs San Diego Chargers Line Judge
December 21, 2015 New Orleans Saints Detroit Lions Line Judge
December 27, 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Chicago Bears Line Judge
January 3, 2016 Cleveland Browns Pittsburgh Steelers Line Judge
Date Team Opponent Position
September 11, 2016 Atlanta Falcons Tampa Bay Buccaneers Line Judge
September 19, 2016 Chicago Bears Philadelphia Eagles Line Judge
September 25, 2016 Seattle Seahawks San Francisco 49ers Line Judge
October 2, 2016 Washington Redskins Cleveland Browns Line Judge
October 9, 2016 Minnesota Vikings Houston Texans Line Judge
October 16, 2016 New York Giants Baltimore Ravens Line Judge
October 23, 2016 Jacksonville Jaguars Oakland Raiders Line Judge
November 6, 2016 Cleveland Browns Dallas Cowboys Line Judge
November 13, 2016 Tennessee Titans Green Bay Packers Line Judge
November 20, 2016 San Francisco 49ers New England Patriots Line Judge
November 27, 2016 Houston Texans San Diego Chargers Line Judge
December 4, 2016 Cincinnati Bengals Philadelphia Eagles Line Judge
December 11, 2016 Detroit Lions Chicago Bears Line Judge
December 18, 2016 Arizona Cardinals New Orleans Saints Line Judge
December 24, 2016 Green Bay Packers Minnesota Vikings Line Judge
Date Team Opponent Position
September 10, 2017 Los Angeles Rams Indianapolis Colts Down Judge
September 17, 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Chicago Bears Down Judge
October 1, 2017 Cleveland Browns Cincinnati Bengals Down Judge
October 8, 2017 Houston Texans Kansas City Chiefs Down Judge
October 15, 2017 Minnesota Vikings Green Bay Packers Down Judge
October 22, 2017 San Francisco 49ers Dallas Cowboys Down Judge
November 5, 2017 Seattle Seahawks Washington Redskins Down Judge
November 12, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars Los Angeles Chargers Down Judge
November 16, 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers Tennessee Titans Down Judge
November 26, 2017 New England Patriots Miami Dolphins Down Judge
December 3, 2017 Arizona Cardinals Los Angeles Rams Down Judge
December 17, 2017 New Orleans Saints New York Jets Down Judge
December 25, 2017 Philadelphia Eagles Oakland Raiders Down Judge
December 31, 2017 Baltimore Ravens Cincinnati Bengals Down Judge
Date Team Opponent Position
September 10, 2018 Oakland Raiders Los Angeles Rams Down Judge
September 16, 2018 New Orleans Saints Cleveland Browns Down Judge
September 23, 2018 Baltimore Ravens Denver Broncos Down Judge
September 30, 2018 Los Angeles Chargers San Francisco 49ers Down Judge
October 11, 2018 New York Giants Philadelphia Eagles Down Judge
October 21, 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars Houston Texans Head Linesman
October 28, 2018 Los Angeles Rams Green Bay Packers Head Linesman
November 4, 2018 Cleveland Browns Kansas City Chiefs Head Linesman
November 11, 2018 New York Jets Buffalo Bills Head Linesman
November 22, 2018 Dallas Cowboys Washington Redskins Head Linesman
December 2, 2018 Cincinnati Bengals Denver Broncos Head Linesman
December 9, 2018 Oakland Raiders Pittsburgh Steelers Head Linesman
December 16, 2018 Baltimore Ravens Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Linesman
December 23, 2018 New York Jets Green Bay Packers Head Linesman
December 30, 2018 Seattle Seahawks Arizona Cardinals Head Linesman
January 13, 2019 New England Patriots Los Angeles Chargers Head Linesman
Date Team Opponent Position
September 8, 2019 Philadelphia Eagles Washington Redskins Down Judge
September 15, 2019 Baltimore Ravens Arizona Cardinals Down Judge
September 22, 2019 Seattle Seahawks New Orleans Saints Down Judge
September 29, 2019 Denver Broncos Jacksonville Jaguars Down Judge
October 6, 2019 Dallas Cowboys Green Bay Packers Down Judge
October 20, 2019 Atlanta Falcons Los Angeles Rams Down Judge
October 28, 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers Miami Dolphins Down Judge
November 3, 2019 Carolina Panthers Tennessee Titans Down Judge
November 10, 2019 Cleveland Browns Buffalo Bills Down Judge
November 21, 2019 Houston Texans Indianapolis Colts Down Judge
December 1, 2019 Cincinnati Bengals New York Jets Down Judge
December 8, 2019 Arizona Cardinals Pittsburgh Steelers Down Judge
December 15, 2019 Los Angeles Chargers Minnesota Vikings Down Judge
December 22, 2019 Washington Redskins New York Giants Down Judge
December 29, 2019 Carolina Panthers New Orleans Saints Down Judge
January 11, 2020 San Francisco 49ers Minnesota Vikings Down Judge

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September 27, 2020
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