NFL official Sarah Thomas has spent her career breaking barriers, and her role in Super Bowl LV is no different.
On Sunday, Thomas will become the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. She will be the game's down judge alongside referee Carl Cheffers, umpire Fred Bryan, line judge Rusty Baynes, field judge James Coleman, side judge Eugene Hall, back judge Din Paganelli and replay official Mike Wimmer.
Thomas has worked full-time in the NFL since being named the first permanent female official in NFL history in 2015. Here are five things to know about Sarah Thomas's trailblazing career.
- Thomas grew up as an avid athlete. She lettered five times in softball during high school and attended the University of Mobile on a basketball scholarship. During her three collegiate seasons, Thomas totaled 779 points, 411 rebounds, 108 assists and 192 steals, fifth most all-time in school history, and was named an Academic All-American.
- Thomas was surrounded by a football family. Her two brothers both played football growing up. Thomas, a communications major, accompanied her older brother to an officials meeting after college with an interest in continuing her connection to sports. She then began officiating grade school football games in Mississippi and later moved up to high schools.
- Thomas rose through the ranks as a college football official. After being recommended by a former official and impressing with her officiating talent, Thomas was hired by Gerry Austin to join the Conference USA staff in 2006. The following year, Thomas became the first woman to officiate a major college football game. In 2009, she became the first woman to officiate a bowl game and later was the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium in 2011.
- Thomas spent time as a pharmaceutical representative before becoming a full-time NFL official in 2015. Thomas worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative in addition to her officiating responsibilities before being hired as the NFL's first permanent female official in April 2015. A mother of three, Thomas went on to be the first woman to earn an on-field assignment for an NFL playoff game in 2019 before being named to the Super Bowl LV officiating crew in 2021.
- The NFL created the term "down judge" after Thomas's hiring. Thomas began her NFL officiating career as a line judge but moved to down judge in 2017. The position used to be referred to as "head linesman" but was altered to a more inclusive name following Thomas's shift. The name change is something the league had discussed prior, according to the MMQB's Albert Breer, but the NFL wanted to recognize Thomas and encourage more women to pursue officiating in swapping to a gender-neutral term.