Reaching the top of one’s profession in six years is no easy task, but Sarah Thomas just proved that it’s possible with discipline and determination. Thomas’ work has paid off with the announcement that she will work as one of the NFL’s on-field officials for Super Bowl 55 in Tampa, Florida, next month.
Sarah Thomas has been a groundbreaking game official
While technically not the first woman to officiate an NFL game, Sarah Thomas is the first to advance through the ranks to land some of the most prestigious assignments.
Shannon Eastin was the first female on-field official when she worked the 2012 regular-season game between the St. Louis Rans and Detroit Lions while the league’s regular officials were sidelined by a labor dispute. Thomas came along three seasons later when the NFL plucked her from the college ranks.
Thomas served as the line judge in 2015 on a full-time crew and moved to down judge in 2017. She drew her first playoff assignment after the 2018 season and has worked three other postseason contests since.
It was the culmination of a typical climb through the ranks in the world of football officiating. Thomas, 47, was a college basketball player who began officiating at the amateur level in 1996. She worked her way up the college ladder and broke the Football Bowl Subdivision glass ceiling in 2007. She remained affiliated with Conference USA through the 2014 season when the NFL came calling.
Sarah Thomas will officiate in Super Bowl 55
Sarah Fuller received attention and acclaim this fall when the Vanderbilt women’s soccer player was called upon to kick for the Commodores after the COVID-19 pandemic left the SEC school short-handed on special teams. Fuller made two appearances and kicked a pair of extra points as the first woman to represent a Power 5 school in a football game.
While her effort was mostly seen as progress for women in a male-oriented sport, some regarded it as a desperate stunt by the coaching staff of a winless program. The circumstances around Sarah Thomas’ climb through the NFL officiating ranks are substantially different. Having just wrapped up six seasons at the sport’s highest level, she was announced on Jan. 19, 2021, as one of the seven on-field officials who will work in Super Bowl 55.
Thomas, the first woman selected to handle a Super Bowl, will be the down judge.
“Sarah Thomas has made history again as the first female Super Bowl official,” said Troy Vincent, executive vice president of football operations. “Her elite performance and commitment to excellence has earned her the right to officiate the Super Bowl. Congratulations to Sarah on this well-deserved honor.”
Carl Cheffers will be the Super Bowl 55 referee
In just her sixth season working in the NFL, Sarah Thomas will be the novice of the officiating crew that will handle Super Bowl 55. The league unveiled its lineup of officials on Jan. 19.
Leading the officials will be referee Carl Cheffers, who is in his 21st season with the league and has been a chief on-field official since 2008. He has worked in 17 playoff games, including Super Bowl 51.
Besides Thomas, his crew will consist of:
- Fred Bryan – Umpire
- Sarah Thomas – Down judge
- Rusty Baynes – Line judge
- James Coleman – Field judge
- Eugene Hall – Side judge
- Dino Paganelli – Back judge
- Mike Wimmer – Replay official
Like Thomas, Coleman has been assigned to the Super Bowl for the first time.
“Their body of work over the course of a 17-game season has earned them the honor of officiating the biggest game on the world’s biggest stage,” said NFL executive VP Troy Vincent. “They are the best of the best.”