“My father always told me to never depend on a man for anything. If you want to do something, just do it,” says Sarah Thomas, a 41-year-old wife, mother of three, and quite possibly the first full-time female game official in the NFL.

Photo courtesy of Corky Trewin, Seattle Seahawks

Thomas has already made history as the first female to officiate in Division 1-A High School football game in the state of Mississippi, and the first female selected to officiate a college bowl game. She’s currently a finalist in the NFL’s Officiating Development Program, working to become a full-time permanent game ref, which would make her the first woman to ever do so.

“Ultimately, it’s something I love doing and I want to be great at,” Thomas tells Ellen’s Good News. “The one thing I’ve learned and grown to love is the fraternity that a girl can come into.”

While refereeing is not Thomas’ real job (she's a pharmaceutical rep in Brandon, MS), it is a passion that has become her important side hustle. She says she got started officiating when she and her brother attended a meeting for aspiring high school refs, then began working high school and college games, and was later discovered by an NFL scout.

Initially, Thomas didn’t realize she would get paid for the gig, but was pleasantly surprised to make the discovery.

“My mom used to tell me she knew I’d never be in the kitchen, but I was smart enough to follow a recipe,” Thomas remembers. “I was always on the basketball court or softball field.”

Thomas describes officiating football games as a challenge she was happy to take on as a fan of the sport. Now that she’s knee-deep in the game, she approaches it all very seriously, and even though she may be a rare specimen, she doesn’t feel she gets treated differently.

“Earning someone’s respect is the same for me as a rookie,” Thomas remarks. “The players don’t look at me like, ‘Oh, you’re a girl, you don’t belong here.’ They look at me like, ‘You’re in stripes.’”

The hardest part of it all for Thomas appears to be the self-scrutiny, as she’s constantly reviewing her own calls and critiquing her errors. The pride factor is a big deal for all refs. Thus, this hardworking mother is always trying to achieve a perfect game, and the “infectious” feeling that she's “nailed it.”

As for her history-making efforts, Thomas doesn’t consider herself much of a pioneer, but she’s happy to inspire people.

She adds, “If my story can impact anybody in a positive way, then that’s wonderful.”