At KSU Stark, NFL’s first female referee discusses how to break barriers


Sarah Thomas at Kent Stark’s first Featured Speaker Series of the school year on Tuesday, Oct. 16. 

Allyson Nichols

The NFL’s first female referee, Sarah Thomas, told a crowd of students, faculty and community members Tuesday night at Kent State Stark about overcoming adversity, finding your passion and achieving success.

Thomas was hired as an NFL official in April 2015 and debuted her first game on the field during a match up between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans that September. Prior to the NFL, Thomas officiated at the high school and junior college level before moving on to Conference USA.

Thomas has continued her journey since then, not just in the NFL, but as a mother, wife, public speaker and marketer for care-in-home hospice. During this time, she learned to balance both her jobs and home life and overcome the different obstacles placed before her.

Prior to her speech on Tuesday, Thomas spoke with groups of junior high and high school students from the community via Google Hangouts where she gave the students a

variety of advice, including one

very important thing that has

helped her throughout the years

in her career and life.

“Regardless of what background you come from, you know right from wrong, and it’s choices that you make of what pathway you go down, so I try to surround myself with good people that I do respect, and I try to carry myself in that regard as well,” Thomas said. “So, me having a support group or some trusted other, officials, mentors, that I’ve been able to still have a relationship with has been very instrumental in my success.”

Throughout the speech, Thomas discussed key points that she believes will help people get far in life. One of her main points was to not go through life trying to prove yourself to others because you’re never going to make everybody happy.

Another point Thomas touched on was that people should always do something in life because they love it. She believes that if you’re doing something in life because you love it, people will take notice.

As a female in a male-dominated career, Thomas has found that it is important for females to not look at themselves as “the only female” in a group or a field. She believes it is important for them to look at themselves as colleagues.

“I want to come to the area where we don’t just look at ourselves as women,” Thomas said. “I want us to know who we are.”

Something Thomas also learned is how to make it through life’s different boundaries.

“Life is not fair,” Thomas said. “It’s just not, and you can either look at those boundaries as a road bump, or you can look at them as a speed bump, and the quicker you go across that speed bump, you’re on the other side of that, and it’s in your rearview mirror. Think of this: A windshield is how big in a car? It’s huge. The rearview mirror is small, and there’s a reason for it, so don’t look out on those boundaries. Just be prepared, do your work and don’t look out on those boundaries.”

Thomas was selected to take part in Kent State Stark’s Featured Speakers Series, an event that allows national and international experts in civil rights, politics, education, environmental activism, literature and arts to come speak to students, faculty and the community at the campus.

A list of past and future speakers can be found on the Featured Speakers page of the Kent State Stark website.

Allyson Nichols is a Social Sciences/Stark Campus Reporter. Contact her at [email protected].