On Super Bowl Sunday, many were shocked to see a woman on the field. She might not have been wearing Chiefs or Buccaneers colors, but she was in uniform along with the players, working as hard as they were. Mrs. Sarah Thomas became the first full-time, female NFL referee in 2015, made history yet again by becoming the first woman to referee the Super Bowl. So, the question stands: why haven’t there been more women reffing sports across the U.S.?
Throughout the history of men’s sports in the United States, no matter what level of difficulty, there has never been a large amount of female referees. The NBA has only six women on their referee team, and the NFL now has one full time. Though most professional sports are dominated by men, millions of women watch sports every day, and most of those women can go through the required training and know the logistics of the sport enough to be a referee.
There has to be an underlying issue that the public is not seeing, and it has to come down to treatment. Long Island Soccer Referees Association (LISRA) President Cathy Caldwell spoke to Morganne Gagne, a student at Duke University, on the matter, saying, “We lose female refs three times more frequently than male refs due to verbal abuse.” This is evident in watching any woman ref a game. During the Super Bowl game, players yelled at Sarah Thomas and expressed concern about “bad calls” that were even clear to the audience. The wrongful treatment of these women, simply because of their gender, is not tolerated, and gets players ejected more often than not.
The stigma against female officials trickles down into the college and high school levels. In 2019, only four of the 70 full time refs at March
Madness were women. Of more than 5,000 referees employed by the NCAA, only 500 of them are females according to Steve Shaw, Director of Officials. At Marian, only a few girls referee boys sports, one of them being freshman Meredith Britson. “Reffing women’s is so much easier because they’re not as aggressive and treat you with more respect. Guys expect you to know everything and yell when I make a ‘bad call,’” she said. “I hate it. The guys are rude, and this is my last year.”
Nebraska history was even made at the boys state basketball tournament in Lincoln by having Elkhorn native Mary Karol McGee on the squad of officials. “My biggest hope is that it just becomes normalized,” McGee told 1011 NOW, Lincoln news. “That it becomes a normal thing to see a female amidst all the males working at not only the girls state tournament but also the boys state tournament.” This is a small feat, but a huge step in the direction of gender equality in male dominated professions.