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.