The NFL just hired their first female ref. Here's why that's huge news.

She's the NFL's first female referee, and here's how she shattered football's glass ceiling.

This football season, there'll be an unfamiliar face running up and down the sidelines: referee Sarah Thomas.

Thomas will become the first woman hired by the NFL as a full-time official, an achievement more than a decade in the making.

Sarah Thomas officiated her first high school football game 16 years ago. Building on her experience, she gradually rose through the football ranks.


By 2007, Thomas had worked her way up to officiating at the top tier of college football. In 2009, she became the first woman to work a bowl game. In 2013, she earned a place alongside 20 other finalists vying for a spot refereeing at the highest level in football: the NFL.

In a 2013 interview, Thomas told a CBS reporter that she never set out to shatter the glass ceiling — but she has. Over and over and over again.

Thomas won't be the first woman to officiate a game, but she will be the first hired full-time by the NFL.

In 2012, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association were involved in a contract dispute and, unfortunately, were not able to reach an agreement before the season started. The NFL used non-union replacement refs, one of whom was Shannon Eastin, a lower-level college ref who hadn't gone through the NFL's development program.

On September 9, 2012, Eastin worked her first NFL game between the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions.

On September 26, 2012, the NFL and NFLRA came to an agreement, and Eastin's time in the NFL was over.

Women have been making themselves heard in the male-dominated sporting world — especially in recent years.

In 1997, Violet Palmer became the first woman to referee an NBA basketball game.

That same year, Dee Kantner also officiated NBA games, and for five years, the two were the only women on the court. In 2002, however, Kantner was fired by the NBA, leaving just Palmer. In 2014, the NBA hired Lauren Holtkamp, making her just the third full-time referee in the league's history.

In total Palmer has refereed more than 900 NBA games.

Because of the hard work of people like Palmer, other women have been able to work their way through the ranks.

Palmer knew that, as a pioneer, she had a target on her back. She managed to silence criticism by being one of the league's top referees.

In 2014, basketball's San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon as a full-time assistant coach.

Hammon's hire made her the first woman brought on as a full-time coach in NBA history.

Prior to her hire, Hammon played 16 years in the WNBA, and she was a two-time representative of the Russian Olympic team (2008, 2012).


Like Hammon and Palmer, Sarah Thomas got where she is through years of hard work.

No one can — in good faith — look at someone who's devoted more than a quarter of their life to making it to the top level and argue that she's not fit to hold the job. Thomas climbed the ranks of football officiating, and now she's finally getting her shot. This is a huge achievement absolutely deserving of celebration.

Watch a CBS report on Sarah Thomas below:

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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