Are There Any Female NFL Referees?

Officiating football games can be a thankless and challenging task. NFL referees are evaluated on a weekly basis, heavily scrutinized by league officials. They’re under almost as much pressure as the players to deliver great performances.

One glaring omission from the ranks of NFL referees? For years, no women have been part of the exclusive group. This changed within the past few seasons, however. Let’s look at the future of women in the NFL including one current female referee in the league.

Are there any female NFL referees? 

There is one female NFL referee, Sarah Thomas. The Mississippi native’s officiating career began in 2007 as a high school football referee. Thomas didn’t feel like she had room for advancement in the role.

No woman had ever officiated at the professional level before. Additionally, the jump from high school to college or the pros was difficult even for men. But an NFL scout saw her in action and saw her potential. After putting her in touch with his former NFL referee Gerald Austin, Thomas found herself officiating Division I NCAA football.

Her first NFL game was a 2015 showdown between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. Since then, Thomas has served as a down judge, head lineswoman, and line judge. Elle Magazine detailed her approach to the game as well as some of her goals: 

“As an official, Thomas spends a lot of time studying and learning. She watches and re-watches plays to continue to improve herself, and she’s been fortunate to have a strong mentor in Austin. While she sets goals (say, officiating the Super Bowl) the main one is to be the best she can be. ‘Now it’s about the longevity of this career,’ she notes. ‘Staying here and being great at it.'”

Thomas clearly approaches her position with a great deal of humility. She understands that NFL refs are constantly analyzed and always tries to improve her performance. While Thomas broke one barrier simply by making it to the NFL, she smashed another one last season. 

How Sarah Thomas impacted NFL officiating last season

Last season, Thomas became the first woman to officiate an NFL postseason game, reports Newsweek. She made history as part of veteran official Ron Torbert’s crew. At Gillette Stadium, she served as the down judge for the Patriots’ divisional-round matchup against the LA Chargers.

Thomas’s presence on the game crew was truly groundbreaking. Pro football is notoriously hard for women to break into, so Thomas persisting to not only join the league but also officiate at one of its highest levels is inspiring. The next frontier for Thomas is to ref a Super Bowl game. 

Other women involved in the NFL

Thomas isn’t the only woman involved in the NFL. Below are some other barrier-breakers at a variety of positions throughout the league

  • Along with her husband Terry, Kim Pegula co-owns the Buffalo Bills. 
  • Jeanne Bonk serves as the executive president and COO of the Los Angeles Chargers. 
  • In 2016, Kathryn Smith became the first female full-time assistant coach for an NFL team when the Buffalo Bills hired her.

Whether it’s officiating, broadcasting, or even owning a team, look for more women in the NFL in the coming years.

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