Sarah Thomas was born in 1973 and is currently 45 years old. She is married to Brian Thomas and has three kids. She is a Mississippi native that grew up in the city of Pascagoula. She has two siblings that played football when they were younger. Thomas developed a passion for sports at a very young age and desired to get involved. She acquired a basketball scholarship to the University of Mobile. She graduated with a degree in communications in 1995. Thomas became the first female referee in the National Football League (NFL) in January of 2019.
In the National Basketball Association (NBA), there has been three female referees in the past 70 years. Violet Palmer was the first female referee in the NBA in 1997. Sarah Thomas is the first full-time official female referee in the NFL, which has been around for nearly 100 years now, in comparison to the NBA.
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The NFL has an extensive list of scandals involving women that include domestic violence, rape, and human trafficking. In early 2014, an alleged video surfaced of Ray Rice, former running back for the Baltimore Ravens, assaulting his wife in an elevator. She was punched and left limp in an elevator. The video caused controversy and backlash and Rice was indicted on aggravated violence charges and also completed intervention sessions.
Again in 2014, an NFL player was accused of committing a rape. The unnamed football player was questioned by the police. When the NFL was contacted about the incident, the player was not suspended from the upcoming game that took place the following week.
Recently, the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, was incarcerated for paying for sex at Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida. The girls working in the spa were trafficked women held against their will. Out of all the others prosecuted in this particular scandal, Kraft stood out because of his professional reputation. The founder of Bags of Hope Ministries in Massachusetts voiced her opinion stating that “Buying women, whether he knew they were trafficked women or not, is not OK. Women are humans, not objects to be used for sexual pleasure, and I just think there should be accountability for that.” Kraft will attend a human trafficking awareness course, pay $5,000 for each count against him, and contribute over 75 hours of community service.
Worldwide, women have less opportunities for education, quality health, and political representation. Even though advocates for women’s rights have held protests and are dedicated to fighting against gender discrimination, it still exists. Many people argue that football and other sports should only be exclusive to men. Women play a role in communities, health care, and other productive fields that contribute to the well-being of everyone. Granting rights to women and allowing them to attain gender equality is essential for reaching global development objectives.
Sarah Thomas states “As women, the way we carry ourselves speaks a lot. Field presence is what they talk about. But you can still be a woman, you can be attractive, and whatever way you carry yourself speaks volumes to the reception. A man may feel as if may he can have his way or whatever, but I just think that when we carry ourselves with confidence, and walk into a room with confidence, the atmosphere kind of changes.”
The voices, movements, and decisions performed by men contribute to attaining gender equality. Gender equality means that women and men both possess chances for individual growth, higher education, and financial freedom. Gender equality will allow a woman to develop or improve her personal control and her options to beneficial resources and opportunities, and her voice. The actions and attitudes of men and boys play an essential role in achieving gender equality.
Women have slowly become more prominent in the field of sports over the last decade; however, they still experience major difficulties. Sports, especially football, are labeled as masculine. Sports that are considered feminine are typically skating and cheerleading. Female athletes are more culturally accepted if they contribute to a sport that suits their gender. This creates beliefs that men should not participate in sports that are considered feminine and that women are not supposed to participate in masculine sports because of societal expectations and the media. If a female chooses to play a sport that is considered a masculine sport, her achievements become unvalued, her sexuality is assumed, and she is only seen for her physical attributes.
On the contrary, male athletes are more privileged and do not suffer the same social issues as females in sports and the consequences that follow them. Males are often recognized as being “powerful and strong” and receive more production coverage than female athletes. Female athletes are undermined for the skills they possess. They are also constantly being sexualized in sports which causes nervousness and can lead to performance issues, mental health issues, and other disorders. Inequality and discrimination can lead to lower expectations for accomplishments, a smaller audience compared to male athletes, and other undesirable outcomes.
Thomas claims to have reached a milestone as a referee in the NFL and reports that “The guys don’t think of me as a female; they see me as just another official.” Sarah Thomas exudes confidence, leadership skills, and assertiveness as a referee and states that players do not recognize or assume her gender because they are too invested in the game. Thomas is an influential woman because she did not abandon her dream of becoming an NFL referee because there was no other woman to do it prior to her. She currently referees with confidence, and also removed a barrier of prejudice for women contributing to sports.