While sports bloggers light the internets ablaze over whether Erin Andrews’ skirts are too short, I find myself fascinated by a post in a New Orleans sports blog about an unexpected sighting at this weekend’s Saints scrimmage. It was a post about another leggy blonde who’s making headlines for what she wears on the sidelines: a referee’s uniform.
Sarah Thomas officiated this Saturday’s scrimmage, fueling fire that the NFL may finally be hipping itself to the fact that:
a) women can comprehend the rules of the NFL
b) women can throw a yellow flag on to a field
c) women can handle it if a burly player says something mean.
Does no one else find it weird, if not even a little appalling, that in an age when a woman can make a legitimate run for President of the free world, the notion that she’d be qualified to officiate a professional sporting event is still considered somewhat controversial?
Sarah Thomas made history last year when she became the first female referee in a Division-I Conference USA game. Not only did she call the game, but she called it well. Said Thomas of the feat,
‘‘As far as breaking the barrier, I’m thankful somebody thought I had what it took to be the first female Division I official. As far as a barrier breaker, now that it has happened — I am honored.’’
And so are we Sarah. But the question remains, what will it take for Sarah to get a shot at the big leagues? We know there’s no easy street to NFL officiating, but Sarah Thomas isn’t exactly a newcomer. She’s got more than a decade of experience officiating at the high school and collegiate level. In June of 2007, Thomas was invited to the Reno Clinic, one of the most highly regarded officiating camps in the country. During the five-day camp, she was rated the #1 line judge by Super Bowl XLII referee Gerald Austin. In an interview last October, Austin told the Meridian Star
“At Reno, I graded her in the top two out of 12 other officials in her position. She has a good knowledge of football and graded out with no negatives (calls).”
Tell it like it is Gerald. Um NFL bigwigs, are you listening?
Are we saying Thomas should be put on a fast track to NFL officiating because she’s a woman? Absolutely not. She’d obviously have to follow the ranks of her male counterparts by spending a few more years at the collegiate level. But we’d like to think that once she’s paid her dues, she’ll be considered for at least a side or back judge officiating gig. After all, women account for nearly 50% of the NFL’s growing fan base. Wouldn’t it be nice to show us some love by acknowledging the fact that a woman can call a game with the same amount of accuracy as a man? (And considering how some of these guys call a game, I’d like to think maybe even a little better…)
And for those who say Thomas could put the game in jeopardy because she can’t “take a hit” like the male officials, I remind you that not every current NFL referee is built like the ever-buff Ed Hochuli. Some of those dudes are old enough to have voted for Kennedy. I’m pretty sure if they can take it, Sarah can.
So in conclusion NFL, we hope you’re paying attention to Sarah’s progress, because we sure as hell are.
In the meantime, you can buy all sorts of cool female NFL ref paraphernalia like the image pictured above by checking out the very nifty site girlscantwhat.com.