(CBS Local)- At Super Bowl LV history will be made. Yes, history in the form of who wins the Lombardi Trophy, but just as importantly, the game will see the first woman to officiate at Super Bowl in Sarah Thomas. For Thomas, it’s just the latest in a string of firsts, having previously become the first woman to be a full-time official in the league and the first woman to officiate a playoff game.
The work of an NFL official, like officials in any sport, is largely thankless. The only times fans or media discuss officiating is when something goes wrong. In a day and age of high definition, slow-motion replays, the spotlight shines bright. The Super Bowl only magnifies that spotlight. CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore says that he commends Thomas for the way that she has handled herself amid all of the normal scrutiny that comes with being an official and the added scrutiny that comes from being the first woman to do so.
“The way that she has handled herself professionally and personally with all of that attention and scrutiny sometimes, I can do nothing but commend what she’s done. Her work has shown I’m sure because she has been assigned this Super Bowl that she not only has weathered that type of being a first and all the hoops and hurdles that are presented to any of us that are fortunate enough to work at the NFL level, but she’s obviously done it very successfully and I congratulate her,” said Steratore.
The progress on diversity and inclusion in the NFL has not been fast, but seeing Thomas work the Super Bowl and assistant coaches like Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar coach in the big game are markers of progress. For NFL on CBS and That Other Pregame Show analyst Amy Trask, the truly exciting moment however, will come when there are no more noteworthy firsts and women in the NFL are the norm.
“What will really be exciting is when such things are no longer noteworthy. And I don’t mean that in any way to detract from what Sarah has accomplished or any of the assistant coaches including Jennifer King. It is exciting. When I say what will truly be exciting is when it’s no longer newsworthy, that’s not by any means an effort or an intent to diminish what they’ve accomplished,” said Trask on CBS’ Super Bowl media sessions. “They have earned this, they deserve this and they should be excited. But won’t it be exciting for all of us when people are hired without regard to race, gender or any other individuality that has no bearing whatsoever on whether one can do a job?”
The key point that both Trask and CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore emphasized is that Thomas’ Super Bowl assignment isn’t just a good story for the league. It’s proof positive that she’s one of the league’s best officials, without question.
“We see Sarah Thomas stepping on the field in the Super Bowl and I know two things, the league would not put her on the field if they did not believe her to be one of the best officials. The league does not want officiating controversy or bad officiating in the Super Bowl,” said Trask. “And the league is going to put into that game only those officials it believes will best officiate the game. Sarah’s not there for any other reason than that the league believes she has earned that spot.”
Steratore, who worked a Super Bowl for the first time in his final year in the league, says he hasn’t spoken with Thomas about what to expect, but he’s looking forward to checking in with her after the game and getting her reaction to working it.
“I’m really looking forward to speaking with her after the Super Bowl and getting her input. At this point, she’s hunkering down with the NFL officiating department and Carl Cheffers and the crew. And I’m sure there are a lot of guys in that room with a lot of experience that can prepare her very well for what she’s about to go into this coming Sunday,” said Steratore.