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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Today, I'm a 35-year-old man with a flame shaved into my beard. If the '80s movies I love so much are any indication, this is a sure sign I'm going through some kind of existential crisis. Next week, when the semester starts and I begin teaching again, it will not be strange if my colleagues start to worry about me just a little. A sports car or a neck-jerking pivot to physical fitness — that's an understandable response to the realization that life is fleeting. But a large meticulous flame carved out of facial hair? What does one do with that?

At this moment, though, I'm showing my face proudly to a woman wearing a swimsuit with a taco cat on it. We have only recently met, but she's telling me that she's so into my "fade" that she wants to kiss it. Then she does, blowing a raspberry into my cheek so hard that her hat falls off. Neither of us can stop laughing.

"Live Mas!" she yells with the excitement of someone who's never had trouble fully seizing the moment.

"Live Mas!" I shout back without any irony. There is no irony here in Palm Springs, where, for four days only, hundreds of people celebrate their love for Taco Bell.

Here, there's only swimming and hot sauce-themed leisure wear, and the warm pleasant feeling that comes from eating too much and knowing that you're with your own people. Even if the only thing that connects you is a love for a fast food giant that feeds you when you're hammered and shameless at 2 a.m.

We drank the Baja Blast! My Taco Bell fade and my friend's specialty manicure!Mark Shrayber

What does it mean to Live Mas? This is a question I am forced to ask myself over and over during my 24-hour stay at "The Bell," where I have stowed away as a friend's plus-one. We are, of course, both politely pretending that I'm a full-on guest with all the perks that entails, but we also both know that I wouldn't be here eating unlimited quesadillas poolside without her.

So maybe that's the first thing Live Mas means: To build strong lifelong connections which you can, with some luck, exploit to your benefit. :) :) :)

But this is too cynical an interpretation, because everyone here is so happy. Happy that they've gotten a reservation; happy that they can cool off in a room themed after an iconic Mountain Dew Drink, and happy that they can share their own personal story of what Taco Bell means to them. (Though there's no formal essay contest — I've checked.)

Me: This room won't be that cool. Also me: OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE COOLEST ROOM I'VE EVER BEEN IN!!!Mark Shrayber

Snatches of this story float around the "Fire" pool, where all the entertainment is concentrated: One couple canceled their trip to Prague because "Prague will always be there" — a brave stance considering climate change; another met last year on Tinder after the girlfriend's Taco Bell senior photos went viral; at the opening ceremony on Thursday, where sauce packets were cut instead of a ribbon, a city official brought others to tears with both her Taco Bell fashion and a memory of how her parents would feed an entire family with 19-cent-tacos from the first-ever Taco Bell in Downey, California.

Oh, I forgot one: The guy who skipped out on Prague? He got a giant bell shaved into the side of his head, so he might have to miss out on a black-tie event happening later this week. But it's all good. Bring on the nacho fries.

I make fast friends with four women who are here for a bachelorette party, the bride overwhelmed with good vibes and prosecco. This year, for her 30th, she rented a party bus. Inside? $100 worth of Taco Bell that her fiancee was worried might not be consumed.

"But little did he know," she shouts in the hot tub where we're "cooling off" after a long day of 108-degree sunning, "we ate it all!"

A bachelorette party and a birthday! We're really living it up (but also staying hydrated.)Mark Shrayber

Others whoop it up at the twist, but we all get it. Though there's no essay contest, I don't mind telling you that when my first boyfriend dumped me 14 years ago, I stuffed my face with chalupas. When I lost a job I really loved four years ago, I once ordered so much Taco Bell that the delivery app of my choice informed me I'd exceeded the maximum number of items they could comfortably fill in one order. We get it — though none of us can truly explain it.

There are, if you look at the The Bell from a literary perspective, many other writers who deserve this experience more than me. They could talk about the blue of the pool. Or the insouciance of youth. Draw parallels between marketing stunts such as this and the end-stage capitalism. Or envision a "Demolition Man" future where Taco Bell is fine dining and none of us know how to use the three shells in the bathroom to get ourselves clean.

And I wish these writers could be here to paint you these landscapes, but what you've got is me, a literal Taco Bell super-fan, and what I'm doing is eating and getting sunburned and taking a synchronized swimming class with the Aqualillies, who refer to themselves as "the world's most glamorous water ballet entertainment," but have very little idea of what to do with 10 eager recruits who can't stay afloat or on beat.


G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S!!Photo courtesy of Taco Bell.

"It's okay," one of the instructors comforts me just before the Tacolilies (the name of our "team") are invited to perform our watery version of "Senorita" — which was supposed to be two minutes long, then 1:15, and has now been judiciously cut down, due to talent, to about 45 seconds — in the bigger pool. "We regularly teach five-year-olds. And you're doing much better."

Usually, I would take offense at such blatant reads, but today I'm unbothered. I'll continue to be so right until I get home and discover that I've left all my electronics on United Flight 5223 (if anyone wants to get them back to me). And even then, I rage at myself for all of five seconds before checking that I've still got what's important: A certificate that says I did not drown while doing water ballet.

It's still there. As is my phone, which is blowing up with messages from people who took pictures of me in what Taco Bell calls its "power suit," and which is best described as "cult outfit, but kinda make it fashion." I bought my husband one, too, and I look forward to the argument we're going to have about holiday cards later.

This is "Live Mas."

I've never been so happy to match with someone else in my life. MaMark Shrayber

Or maybe it's the moment another stranger tells me that we'll be friends forever. Such friendships are forged quickly when you've got less than 24 hours to make lifelong connections and I'm pleased to get the full experience.

"We may never meet again," he says while we're swimming, "but we'll always have this time together."

Then we establish that he lives just across the park from me in San Francisco.

"Aw, man," he says, floating away to take pictures of the people he came with, "I've got lots of close friends I never see because they live across that damn park."

But the sentiment holds.

We Live Mas it on.

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