Mississippi native makes history tonight as she takes field at Super Bowl

Published 2:48 pm Sunday, February 7, 2021

Mississippi native Sarah Thomas will become the first female to officiate a Super Bowl tonight when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

NFL officials announced last month that Thomas will serve as a down judge on referee the crew at Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida.

Thomas made history in 2015 when she became the first full-time female official in NFL history.  In 2019, she became the first female to officiate an NFL playoff game. Super Bowl officiating crew members are appointed based on eligibility — a minimum of five years of experience is required — as well as in-season performance.

“Sarah Thomas has made history again as the first female Super Bowl official,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said in a statement. “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.”

Thomas was born in Pascagoula and graduated from Pascagoula High School, where she was a star athlete in both softball and basketball. She attended the University of Mobile on a basketball scholarship, earning Academic All-America honors.

She worked her first high school game in 1999 and, in 2006, Thomas was invited to a Conference USA officials’ camp. The following year, she became the first female to work a major college game when she was part of the crew for the Memphis – Jacksonville State game.

In 2009, she became the first female to work a college bowl game — the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. In 2011, she was the first female to work a Big Ten game, serving as a line judge for the Northwestern – Rice game.

By 2013, Thomas was one of 21 finalists for an NFL officiating position. At the time, she worked New Orleans Saints scrimmages and was part of the NFL officiating development program.

Finally, on April 8, 2015, Thomas was announced as the first full-time game official in NFL history. She made her regular-season debut on Sept. 13, working the Kansas City Chiefs – Houston Texans game.

Playoff and Super Bowl officials are selected largely on the basis of grades issued by the league officiating office during the season. Officials are played into one of three tiers based on those grades.

Tier 1 is considered championship level, Tier 2 is qualified for playoff work, and those in Tier 3 do not get playoff assignments. For conference championships and the Super Bowl, only officials from Tier 1 are considered for assignment.
Thomas now resides in Brandon, Miss., with her husband and three children.