Former Mobile athlete becoming first woman to officiate in NFL playoffs

Down judge Sarah Thomas speaks with Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin during an NFL game on Dec. 30, 2018, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) (

Former University of Mobile basketball player Sarah Thomas will become the first female official to work an NFL playoff game on Sunday afternoon.

Thomas will be the down judge on referee Ron Torbert’s crew when the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots square off at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, at 12:05 p.m. CST Sunday. CBS will televise the game.

Thomas became the first woman hired by the NFL as a full-time official in 2015. In her fourth season in the NFL, she earned a playoff spot. Postseason officials are chosen for assignments on merit based on their regular-season work.

Thomas has worked as a down judge for the past two seasons after spending her first two seasons as a line judge. The down judge formerly was called the head linesman.


Thomas helped Mobile reach the NAIA national tournament in 1993 and was named a Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete in 1995.

A native of Pascagoula, Mississippi, Thomas began her officiating career working Mississippi high school games after finishing college.

After a decade of high school work, she moved to the college level. On Sept. 14, 2007, she became the first woman to officiate in a game involving a major-college football program when she worked Memphis’ contest against Jacksonville State. Two years later, Thomas became the first female official for a bowl when she worked the Little Caesars Bowl between Marshall and Ohio.

Thomas’ appearance on the field on Sunday was preceded by a day by Terri Valentini’s work as the instant-replay official during the Indianapolis Colts-Kansas City Chiefs playoff game. Valentini was the NFL’s first female instant-replay official.

Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.

Down judge Sarah Thomas steps between players from the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots during a dustup in an NFL preseason game on Aug. 24, 2018, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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