In 2015, the NFL hired Sarah Thomas as the first female full-time official to call professional football games. Also a spokeswoman for Activia probiotic yogurt, this Mississippi native and mother of three translated her years of both playing and refereeing high school and college sports to working in America’s biggest professional sports league.
Were you a big football fan as a kid?
I sure was. My whole family followed sports—my two brothers, and my mom and dad. Our large extended family is all sports-oriented, too, so it’s something we always did and still do together around Thanksgiving.
How did you connect with the NFL to become an official?
When I got started in officiating, I had no idea that women didn’t officiate football. When I played basketball, there were women officials. I didn’t have any aspirations to become a college or NFL official—I just didn’t think it would be realistic. But as I grew as a ref on the high school playing field and later as a junior college ref and then Division 1 games, I was suddenly on the fast track.
Any special memories from officiating your first NFL game?
My fellow referee Pete Morelli took me down to the field and said, “Welcome to the NFL.” This was very meaningful to me because Pete is a legendary NFL official. Of course my entire family was there too, including aunts, uncles, cousins. They all got to cherish the moment with me.
Tell us about your mantra: “Always strive for perfection.”
As an official, we always strive to be perfect working a game. Even if we get all of our calls correct, there is still something to build on. In life, if we just settle for things, we can be content. But my mantra means you’re always willing to be better, improving your life and life for those around you. If you’re always trying to be your best, it’s kind of contagious.
What’s your workout and nutrition routine?
It’s a daily lifestyle. I do everything in moderation: exercise, cutting back on sugar and carbs, getting enough protein. I exercise three to five days a week; I’ll do 30 minutes of cardio, abs work and then some weights. During my cardio, I’ll add in sprints, walking lunges and back shuffles to help mimic moves I’ll be participating in during a game. My daughter likes to ride her bike with me when I jog, too. She always tells me to run faster.
How did you connect with Activia yogurt?
They are an NFL sponsor. They started a campaign around women believing in themselves and asked me to be a spokeswoman. I’ve found such joy being part of this campaign because it’s allowed me to reflect back on times when I had self-doubts, like when I was the first girl on the fifth-grade boys basketball team. I’m also a pharmaceutical rep, so I understand the healthy probiotics in Activia and how they help maintain gut health and overall health. I eat it every day.
Your kids are all athletes. Do you think they’ll follow in your footsteps?
If they want to, they’ll have my support. I just tell them throughout this life journey, just do something because you love it.