On a day where it’s been made clear just how shitty of an arena sports can be for women, there’s also an example of the sliver of progress that has been made. Sarah Thomas will become the first woman to officiate the Super Bowl, as she was named the down judge for the NFL’s showpiece. She can look forward to having Andy Reid or Matt LaFleur barking in her ear for three hours.
This isn’t the first glass-breaking achievement of Thomas’ career. She was the first woman to ref a major college football game, the first to ref a bowl game, and the NFL’s first permanent female referee.
While there are still far more stories like Jared Porter’s in the sports world than those of steps forward for women, there have been some of the latter recently, including in the NFL and in the world of officiating. Stephanie Frappart became the first female ref to take charge of a Champions League game in Europe. Just a year ago, Katie Sowers became the first female coach to be part of a Super Bowl team (though she won’t be returning to the Niners next year). The list isn’t long enough, but at least it exists.
Of course, this past NFL season has also included Cris Collinsworth’s utter amazement that female football fans exist, so clearly there are many miles to go before we sleep. But still, Thomas getting the Super Bowl call represents a landmark for the NFL and its relationship with women both in and out of the league, and something to build on. The Super Bowl crew is an All-Star lineup of officials (admittedly, based on the level of officiating you see week-to-week, this doesn’t feel like a gargantuan hurdle). Thomas will be in Tampa because she’s one of the best at what she does.