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NFL names Sarah Thomas its first female official


If you learn an official's name, the reason is rarely positive.

Sarah Thomas, announced Wednesday as the NFL's first female official, is among the exceptions. But after two decades in officiating -- including the last 17 in FBS-level Conference USA -- not wanting the world to know her name is hard-wired into her DNA.

"Yes, I am ecstatic to have the call, I really am," she said on a conference call with national media. "But wanting to stick my chest out or whatever it may be that I'm the first female (official) -- it's just the mindset of an official that you don't want to be seen or noticed, and I don't know if my mind has been trained that way for 20 years.

"I hate to downplay it somewhat. Am I ecstatic? Yes. But (above) all, I'm an official, and that's the mindset that I have."

But make no mistake -- this is a big deal for the NFL, and for Thomas personally. She recited the exact day, hour and minute April 2 when she received the call from NFL officiating director Dean Blandino confirming her addition to the league's roster of officials, promoting her from the league's Officiating Development Program, in which she officiated training camps and preseason games the last two years.

"f you look at Sarah's background and her journey to get here, this is not something that happened overnight," Blandino said. "She's been on our radar screen for eight to nine years and a part of our development program for two."

But the news still took Thomas' breath away.

"I tell my girlfriends and family that I was speechless, and it was hard for them to believe that," Thomas said.

Thomas took up officiating in the early 1990s after playing softball and basketball growing up, earning a hoops scholarship to the University of Mobile before breaking into the football ranks.

She is the first female NFL official, but she won't be the last. A fellow C-USA official, Maia Chaka, completed her first year in the program last year. Blandino said another female candidate has interviewed to join its ranks.

Thomas is one of nine new officials added to the league's roster Wednesday, a group that also includes Walt Coleman IV, whose father, Walt Coleman III, completed his 26th season in the NFL and his 20th as a referee last year.

Blandino said some of the new officials will "probably" serve as "floaters," to be be placed on crews as needed in the event of injury to officials.

Thomas will be placed on one of the full-time crews.

Blandino added that "seven or eight" officials would not return for the 2015 season, although he declined to specify which ones.

For the officials who will not return, their departure will not be the result of a single bad year.

"Any official in any competitive arena could have a poor season, so one season may not necessarily cause us to terminate an official," Blandino said.

"But if it becomes a trend (over) multiple seasons, we have a tier-based ranking system where we rank our officials on one of three tiers, the third tier being the lowest performers, and once they enter Tier 3, then we give them an enhanced training regimen and we focus on them and their development, and if we still don't see improvement the following season, that's when we seriously consider moving on."

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