Thomas makes history as first female Super Bowl official
Los Angeles (AFP) –
Sarah Thomas will blaze a trail for female officials everywhere on Sunday when she becomes the first woman to officiate at the Super Bowl.
The 47-year-old from Mississippi is part of an eight-member officiating crew who will take charge of proceedings at the Raymond James Stadium where the Kansas City Chiefs face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It marks the highlight of a six-year NFL officiating career that began when she was hired in 2015.
"When I get on that field, and take it all in, I know that I'm probably going to get a little teary-eyed," Thomas said.
"When I started officiating, there were very few females officiating in football... I got an email the other day from overseas from some female football officials; across the world you can see the impact.
"My message to them would be, do it because you love it, don't do it because you want the recognition.
"But there's power in numbers. And when you start having more and more females, there is no one doing it for the recognition - they are doing it because they love it."
Thomas's officiating journey began in 1996, working her way up through the ranks of youth football before advancing to high school level.
She feared she would never progress to college football -- after being told by one league official he would never assign her to a game because of her gender.
However, she was spotted by NFL scout Joe Haynes, who recommended Thomas to Conference USA -- an intercollegiate grouping based in the southern United States.
"In what I thought was going to be my last game, Joe Haynes watched me work," Thomas said in a 2019 interview.
"And he said I think you've got what it takes to get to the next level."
Despite her groundbreaking career, Thomas says she never set out to "bust up the good old boys club."
"I'm doing this because I love it," she said.
Her NFL career took off after she impressed during training camps with the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts.
Hired by the NFL on a full-time basis in 2015, she made her debut later that year as a line judge, a role that saw her end up with a broken wrist when she was knocked over during a 2016 game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
She returned to finish the game despite the injury.
Thomas says growing up in a household with two brothers helped shape her character.
"I've always been the only girl," she said in 2019. "I was raised by a mother and father to never depend on anyone, any man, for anything.
"I just have a drive. I work, I work and I work. When all my friends were out doing their thing, I was dedicated to where this journey has taken me."
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