By Juli McDonald

FOXBORO (CBS) – Before the first whistle blows in Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Chargers, Sarah Thomas will have made history again. The Mississippi native was the first woman to ever officiate a college football bowl game.

Then she became the NFL’s first full-time female official. Now, she’ll be the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game. Among all the eyes sure to be on her – a special group of supporters – her fellow female football officials.

“I personally know of 12 female officials nationwide at the college level currently,” said college football official Julie Howell from Abington.

Howell began officiating girls’ lacrosse when she was in college. It was her dad who suggested she join him on the football field.

NCAA football official Julie Howell (WBZ-TV)

“The funny thing is my first reaction was, I can do that? Here I am eight years later officiating division three colleges all across New England,” she said.

Howell loves the passion and the pace of the game, but admits it can feel like she’s under a microscope.

“Everybody has that pressure to make sure they get the right call, but you definitely stand out. You’re noticed,” she explained.

Sarah Thomas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A tremendous amount of effort goes in to getting it right. After every game, Howell is already preparing for the next, and the offseason is dedicated to studying ever-changing rules.

“Each of us is looking at different things. We all function together. If we all do our job well, ideally we won’t miss anything,” Howell said.

And Sarah Thomas has earned her way to the top.

“I wish her the best of luck,” Howell said. “There is very clearly a lot of eyes on her to do a good job now that she’s been given this opportunity. I’m sure she’s going to crush it. Paving the way for the rest of us.”

Juli McDonald

Comments (46)
  1. John Barnett says:

    She can’t be any worse than the men, who are terrible and should all be banned from the game.

    1. Stefan Leretseh says:

      Dressing females to look like males is designed – by liberals – to make males knuckle under to female manhood. Females are not males. Forcing males out to allow females in….THAT is why our prison system is loaded with males…and why there is so much govt debt. Not enough jobs to go around. Females will take any job males are willing to give up. But our political/ economic system cannot survive this nonsense. The females role in a society has been established throughout human history!…It is to procreate – and stay OUT/ don’t disrupt male groups/ titles.

  2. As bad as officiating has been the last few seasons I say good luck I dont care who is officiating as long as they aren’t as terrible as some of the current crop.

  3. Matt Vent says:

    The stripes don’t know race or gender, only the rules of the game. This is a non story.

  4. Ernest Bailey says:

    I don’t give a flip…..have not watched and NFL game in about two years

    1. Michael Douglas Cosgrove says:

      But yet you read the article and came here to comment….

  5. Andrew Moore says:

    Just because she’s the first, it doesn’t make it right. It’s a man’s game. Between the hot pink “breast cancer” uniforms, and now this, it won’t be long before the “bull” women are in the game. The feminization of the NFL continues.

  6. Ken Chapel says:

    she will be better than most of the boobs working the games now.

  7. Michael Bavington says:

    She looks very weak and unable to run and keep up with the men on the field. Affirmative action a work, trying to please women, as if they are no better than a 5 year old child.

  8. NFL has now started to wear pink underwear, 24-7-365

  9. Dave Fay says:

    Maybe a woman can actually establish what a catch is, since the male refs sure can’t.

  10. Very very disturbing. I can’t even watch ESPN for their PC hiring and now the NFL. Pro sports used to mean the best no matter what and now? Explains all these running QBs who have no business in the NFL.

  11. Jeb Charleston says:

    Is there a rule in the NFL for penalty if a player calls a woman ref the c-word ?

  12. How does she rank among available refs?

  13. Greg Olinger says:

    Every game I have watched with her has been a cluster. The NFL has become liberalized and boring.

  14. Richard Mason says:

    Not a sports fan so apologies if I missed it but WHAT officiating POSITION is she going to play? The “low seniority” (slightly more chance of physical contact) position is usually “umpire” which is the official covering the rushing offense. Question: Is she taking the traditional position awarded a first time official –or not? Just askin’…

  15. Robert Gregory Anders says:

    People still watch the NFL? is that still a thing?

    hahaha this disaster will be fun to NOT WATCH.

  16. Buzz Marks says:


  17. Danny Carter says:

    As long as she doesn’t throw a flag for something that happened three years ago!

  18. Big Mama says:

    I hope the coaches and players get in her face ..yell and scream and call her names like they do the men..No walking around on egg shells…no sexual harassment claims for being called a name..I suppose she gets a “special ” locker room ” also

  19. Michael Swisher says:

    Is this the same woman ref who arbitrarily gave the football to the redskins when the browns had the ball and was no wear near the pile? She’s a terrible ref. She should fit right in.

  20. Bob Bradley says:

    The NFL killed itself some time ago. No one cares that a woman is there. It’s not entertaining anymore.

  21. Chris Pearson says:

    Calls penalty on something that happened 3 years ago.

  22. Chris Rengers says:

    Football- it not even a game anymore. It’s just a legalistic politically correct business.

  23. Will Jamison says:

    Why is everyone trying to spray perfume on everything that men do? Is it really too much to ask to have a man’s sport?

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