Could Sarah Thomas be the NFL's first female ref?

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by CANDY CROWLEY

CNN

Posted on August 4, 2013 at 10:42 AM

Poll:
Is the NFL ready for a female referee?

Are you ready for some football?

And while we're at it... Is football ready for this?

Referee Sarah Thomas could soon be headed to the NFL gridiron.

"I think that the biggest concern I have as a female is making sure that my uniform fits the right way," she said. "Other than that, it's just I'm out there just like one of the guys."

Thomas said simply she's got a job to do, just like the men who enforce the rules.

"I have a job I've got to do, and manage the line of scrimmage, the line judge position," she said. "With experience comes just that."

If there's an opening in 2014, Sarah Thomas has a good chance to become the first female full-time NFL official. But breaking the grass ceiling has never been her goal.

"The guys that I officiate with, they understand that yeah, I'm a female, and individually we're all different, regardless of race or gender," she said. "I understand that being female there's going to be some focus on that, but collectively we're one when we're out there on the field and we're all trying to strive for the same reasons, same goals, to work the perfect game."

Still, you can't help but notice... Right?

"If I'm around the guys and I'm the only one out here wearing mascara and lipstick ... they kinda pick up on it pretty quickly when they hear me talk," Thomas said. "But I've had a lot of people say, 'I told you that was a girl!' when I left the field and had my hair down or something, so those are the games I want. I want to go unnoticed, just like the other six guys on the field."

At the New Orleans Saints training center, they tend to see Thomas's turf-breaking role in black-and-white.

"It is pretty cool for a country that speaks so much about equality to have women, not only officiating the game, but at the highest level," said Saints wide receiver Lance Moore.

"All I know is, she's wearing black-and-white stripes and has a hat on," said tight end Jimmy Graham.

Safety Roman Harper has no problem with a female referee. "As long as she is making the right calls," he said. "She will be hated like the rest of them."

"I think it would be hard for a a coach to yell at a female official maybe like he would a male official, and that's just being honest," quarterback Drew Brees said.

Sarah Thomas is already bracing for the possibility of making a mistake in a big game.

"You know, the bad call's gonna come, and hopefully there's enough good calls out there that precede it," she said. "We're human, and regardless of gender or race or whatever it may be, we are gonna make a mistake."

For a story that may or may not happen for more than a year, Thomas is being pushed aggressively to the media by the NFL.

IN truth, the organization could use a little gridiron makeover. In recent months, players have been picked up on concealed weapons charges... accused of racism... charged with manslaughter... involved in a murder-suicide.... and charged with murder.

So is the NFL is trying to put out a "good" story by calling attention to Sarah Thomas?

"With diversity, it's a core principle of the NFL," said Dean Blandino, the league's vice president of officiating. "So this is right in line with our values. And I think Sarah's worked her way to this point, and it's a nice by-product for the NFL that she's a female, and it's a great story, absolutely."

But why Sarah Thomas? And why now?

"I really, I can't answer that as to why they're putting me out now," she said. "I was told I needed to do it, so here I am."

For Thomas, the focus is the same as it's always been: Officiating the perfect game.

"She's just going to be another one of those terrible guys that's out there, that's calling the game, that screws up the game for us," said NFL official Walt Coleman. "She is going to be just like the rest of us."

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