Sarah Thomas aspires to become the first female referee officiating in the National Football League. She’ll be putting her skills to the test on Friday, trying out as an NFL line ref during the preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders.

Thomas has been refereeing collegiate football at the Division I level (the first woman to do so) in Conference USA for the last several years. After becoming the first female tapped to ref a bowl game, Thomas has one more hurdle to clear –reffing in the NFL. "I know a lot of females are maybe inspired that there's a gender-barrier about to be broken,” Thomas told CBS News. “But I never set out to shatter the glass ceiling.”

The 39-year-old mother-of three actually tries not to flaunt her gender while wearing her white and black striped uniform, opting to hide her long hair under her hat – though she does allow herself some light makeup. "Yeah, sure. I mean when I walk up and have mascara on and maybe some lip gloss,” she admitted, adding, “[The players] notice the difference and hear my tone."


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In the NFL officiating meritocracy, Thomas will be held to the same standards as her male counterparts when she takes to the field on Friday to prove herself, according to VP of officiating Dean Blandino. "She's here for a reason,” he told CBS. “We're looking for the best officials. So she can either do it or she can't do it, whether she's male or female. And that's ultimately going to be the deciding factor." Blandino added, “I'd say, if she keeps doing what she's done, [her odds] are pretty good."

While being a female hasn’t stopped Thomas from pursuing her dream job, and it's not a point of discrimination for NFL administration, there are still the professional athletes to worry about. Will they take her seriously? Will she be able to keep up with the speed and intensity of the NFL compared to college ball? Can she handle their inevitable vitriolic dissent?

As New Orleans Saints safety Roman Harper succinctly put it: "At the end of the day when she throws the flag, nobody is going to be happy. She's just like every other ref."

Thomas, who was an athlete herself at one time, couldn’t agree more. “I joke about it, but I couldn't stand the officials,” she told CBS’s Mark Strassman, talking about her playing days. "I just try to let [the player] know that maybe I didn't see it the way he saw it, or you know, that I'm doing a job.”

– Chelsea Regan

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