Sara M: Welcome to a very special midweek episode of Bridge the Gap. I’m Sara Mitchell, the producer of Bridge the Gap, super excited to be sitting down with the lovely Sarah Thomas. Sarah, you are the first female NFL official and we are elated to have you on the podcast.
Sarah T: I am grateful to be here. Thank you.
Sara M: Yeah, so for all of you listening and watching if you haven’t heard the full episode, definitely go download that one because it’s an incredible conversation, but I’m excited to sit down with you, Sarah to talk about some things may be off the record or maybe unrelated to some of the things the guys talk to you about.
Sarah T: I don’t think there’s anything ever off the record, Sara.
Sara M: Yeah, that’s true.
Sarah T: I understand where we’re going.
Sara M: Okay, so on a normal basis for you in season or out of season, do people stop you? Do they recognize you and do you always have someone asking to take your photo?
Sarah T: It’s becoming more and more prevalent now. I think with just people seeing me without my hair in the ponytail under the hat or in stripes and able to see me just I guess maybe an in my everyday mom mode or a professional mode outside of the NFL. Yeah, it’s becoming more prevalent.
Sara M: When you are not in season what is your daily schedule like? You are a mom. You do a ton of other things but what is, what’s yours like daily grind?
Sarah T: Yeah, being a mom is of course the most important to me and that starts with the morning grind at about 5:45 with getting the kindergartener out the door and then waking up the two high schoolers to get them out of the bed and the house which can be quite a chore in itself, and then I work for a hospice agency there in Mississippi, Care In-Home Hospice, and I just try to put as much time into that as I can and I speak nationally. I have a great team of people around me that help, loved ones and friends and family. But, you know, try to get a little work out again on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, as far as weights are concerned and a little cardio on Tuesday/Thursdays and just be mom and make all the events I can for them and juggle like so many people the different hats we have to do to get through that day and then try to get in the bed and get some sleep.
Sara M: So you touched on a couple of things I would love to dive deeper in. One of those being just the balance of everything. So not only are you in a very public limelight of a national screen, you’re also a very normal person when you’re not on television. So how do you balance all of that from being the first female NFL official and being on television? It doesn’t matter if you’re female or not. That alone it’s a really cool career. How you balance all of that?
Sarah T: I’m going to tell you I was raised by two wonderful parents that just always taught me to be kind and just treat others the way that you want to be treated. So they really demonstrated to me how life should be when it comes to being successful in their field work. They were both educators and then also doing what was required of making a household run the way it was supposed to but then being there for their children, and they were parents to us. They weren’t friends to us. So I try to take what I learned in my upbringing and pass it on to my own children. I’m not saying I do it right and I don’t know that I balance it all as well as maybe I portray at times, but I just try to teach my kids accountability, time management, and just so you know again like my parents taught me, treat others the way you want to be treated and then I have a wonderful group of girlfriends that are very grounded as well. Just like me, and they know that I am me and just because my name may be out there on a national level, it just it doesn’t define who I am.
Sara M: Did you have any idea when your career starts spinning into this what it is now, did you have any aspiration or thought that you would be a national speaker, that you would be traveling all over the country, on podcasts, on radio stations, television, being interviews? What is that like?
Sarah T: No, of course not. I will tell you my college degree is in Communications with a PR emphasis…
Sara M: Okay, so you are set up.
Sarah T: … and that comes from my mom’s sister Patsy. She was a fantastic speaker, but I had no idea it would be this but I knew I didn’t want to get into journalism as far as writing about games because I didn’t want to have that deadline but I knew maybe I wanted to be like you know Erin Andrews or Krista Thompson just someone just that I could be on the sidelines, but of course you’ve got to put in the work before you can do that and I didn’t want to get in at the bottom of the totem pole, so like anything, I just found a career. I was a paralegal. Then I got into pharmaceutical sales and now I’m with the hospice company, but I had no idea, you know that I would be doing this but everything has its season, Sara, and I am just grateful and blessed that I’m able to do this and share my story and hopefully continue to inspire people that hear it, that don’t give up. You know work hard and I just continue this this journey.
Sara M: For those young aspiring soon-to-be sports reporters, sports officials, really any career, could be senior living or podcasting, what would you tell them about overcoming challenges? Maybe thinking of something, a hurdle that you had to overcome that you wish someone had told you, here’s how you get over that.
Sarah T: Yeah, there were so many of those hurdles and I think there’s a lot of people that are still hurdling over things. But when you ask me that question, I go back to whenever I was kicked off of the men’s basketball team, because I was a girl and I’ve been playing there for three years and apparently I must have offended or taking somebody to the hole the wrong way. I don’t know but at that time I just was like why? Because I’m a girl I’ve got to be kicked out but I had no idea that that roadblock at the time. I thought it was a roadblock was just truly a speed bump and the doors of opportunity opened for me to go on and just be involved in officiating with the guys at that time. So I always say you’re going to fail at something. There’s going to be, not a roadblock. Please don’t look at it as a roadblock, a speed bump and how quick you get over that speed bump determines how quickly you move forward but you’re going to fail. Doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Just don’t like the taste of it. Find a solution and keep moving forward.
Sara M: I love it and everyone should hear that. A couple of quick questions you because I know you’re not tight schedule. You’re keynote speaker at Argentum this afternoon. You’re on a pretty tight schedule. But let’s talk about ponytail in the hat; how much emphasis do you put on maybe not covering up being a female on the field. But what’s your thought process?
Sarah T: So whenever Gerald Alston hired me. I remember him telling me that I was going to have to put my hair up under the hat and then and wear little or no makeup and I told Gerald he was crossing the line with the makeup. I have to wear makeup, but the hair up, I understood at the time exactly what he was doing. He was doing it to protect me not to say that the fact to suppress the fact that I’m a woman but it was just more less if someone sees you walk out on field immediately they’re going to think what is she doing here? He just wanted me to kind of go under the radar like every other official does. So it was not just because I was a girl that every official wants to do that. As time has progressed, there are more and more females that are getting involved and we have had the discussion. What do to maybe attract more females getting into officiating football and how do we promote it?
One thing we got to talking about was the hat, and I do not like the fitted hat with the hair out of it. And I know that there’s some officials females that are doing it, and I just don’t think it looks professional but I said if you could do an adjustable hat like, you know, just where we could hold a ponytail through and I made would entertain wearing it again that way but I am a creature of habit and superstitious and I’ve always tucked my hair. So I don’t know that I would untuck it now. I just get into a rhythm and I’ve got that routine.
Sara M: Okay, so a game day, do you have to get ready by yourself?
Sarah T: Yes.
Sara M: I mean, do you like that?
Sarah T: I’ve done it for 24 seasons. I know no different. In high school, we would dress in the car. I would be taking clothes off and putting clothes on. So sorry to all the law enforcement. A little sketchy but then with college, I had, we dressed at the hotel. So that was fine. But then with the NFL I have my own locker room and we just about got it down pat, like who is getting dressed when and when I can come in and when I need to just you know step out, whatever but yeah, I’ve got my own place and it’s fine. I mean, I don’t feel like I’m alienated by any means. I just got to go get dressed plus I do a little bit of a workout routine that I don’t think the guys would enjoy watching anyway, but I listen to my own music. I have my I have my routine.
Sara M: So you are set.
Sarah T: Yeah.
Sara M: I love it. Parting thoughts here. What is the most fun part about your career and what you’re doing right now?
Sarah T: The most fun part is truly being with these guys and being able to be on the field with them, the seven officials on the field. We have our replay guys that are part of our crew, just the entire staff in itself and that we’re all on one mission: to get it right. We’re all striving for the same thing and and being able to be around their families, their wives, their kids, and then being able to show my kids and let them go every once in awhile to a game. It’s great.
Sara M: I love it. They are lucky to have you as a mom and lots of advice lots of encouragement. So I hope everyone listening will get a piece of encouragement and a nugget there.
Sarah T: So thank you.
Sara M: Sara Thomas. Thanks for joining us for another great episode of Bridge the Gap.