The Saints moved Thursday’s practice indoors, as a crush of national media descended upon the Black and Gold’s workout.
They weren’t at camp to watch the players or coaches this time. Instead, all eyes were on one woman poised to make pro football history.
Sarah Thomas is a wife and mother of three from Mississippi, who’s in position to become the first female official in the NFL.
“I don’t feel a weight on my shoulders. It’s exciting,” Thomas said. “I didn’t set out to be the first or a pioneer, but I will embrace it, if that does happen.”
Thomas is in New Orleans working the Saints’ practices Thursday and Friday, as well as Saturday’s scrimmage, as part of the NFL’s Officiating Development Program.
She’s a finalist to get one of the next full-time openings on an NFL officiating crew – likely in the 2014 season.
“The guys that I officiate with, it’s a profession. They understand that we’re all there for the same goal, to get through the game, go unnoticed, be uneventful and so I don’t ever feel like I’m isolated or anything,” Thomas said. “I’ve been welcomed and part of the group.”
The former University of Mobile basketball player became the first female to officiate a Division 1-A high school football game in Mississippi in 1996.
Since then, Thomas has officiated the Senior Bowl twice, a college bowl game and worked in the United Football League. She’s now a Conference USA line judge.
“I really don’t feel like I get harsher treatment of any sort. The coaches and the players, it’s their job. The players want to win, it’s competitive, the heat of the moment, spirit of the game,” Thomas said. “If I make a call or I miss a call, they express it and the coaches express it and we’re on to the next play.”
Drew Brees is expressing support for the idea of female officials in the NFL.
“They’re as qualified as anybody else who’s out there. Obviously, there’s a protocol that they all go through. It’s not easy to become an NFL official, just like it’s not easy to become an NFL player,” Brees said.
Thomas isn’t a newcomer to the Saints, and Coach Sean Payton says he and the rest of the team have a high level of confidence in her abilities.
“I’m familiar with Sarah only because she’s had a chance to participate in our training camps since I got here in ’06, ’07 ’08 and ’09. The whole time she’s been a part of a crew that’s worked our training camp every year, and she’s done a great job,” Payton said. “You really don’t notice or pay attention to it, and if you do, it’s just because it may be the first time you see a female official.”
Off the field, Thomas works as a pharmaceutical representative. She and her husband Brian have two boys, ages 12 and 9, as well as a 7-month-old baby girl.