Today's New York Times has a feature about Sarah Thomas, the only female referee in big-time college football. First hired by Conference USA in 2007 and working a full slate of games for the first time this year, she appears eminently qualified, good at her job and there is no hint that anyone, anywhere on any team has any problems (other than the mild discomfort of a 19-year-old boy) with a woman wearing stripes, particularly vertical stripes which are slimming (an assist that Thomas needs far less than most of the beer-bellied waddlers on the field calling games with her). Somehow, though, near the end of the article, the author managed to write a sentence that made me – New York Jew liberal me – shake my head about the liberal assumptions that can undergird even the sports section of the Times.
Thomas has also worked the New Orleans Saints' training camps, and her name comes up as the most likely contender when the N.F.L. decides to add a female official.
Decides to add? How unfair to both the N.F.L. and to Thomas herself. To the N.F.L. because it supposes that the owners of the league have been a bunch of cigar-chomping tycoons harrumphing about how women won't become N.F.L. officials on their watch – until someone comes along, Truman-like, and forcibly integrates the ranks of football referees. And then to Thomas, because it undermines the rest of the article, which pretty clearly indicates that she is climbing the ranks on the quality of her calls on the field, and may someday be ready to be hired at the N.F.L. level on her own merits.
Another passage in the article indicates that, when she was on the verge of quitting the referree track for a different, more parent-friendly (if boring) career in pharmaceutical sales, she was coaxed back to officiating by people worried that one of the best female refs was hanging up her whistle. While I suppose this was a degree of preferential treatment – if a good but not legendary male ref decided to quit, who would care – I see no problem at all with cultivating female talent in an effort to diversify the ranks of officials. It does a huge disservice to Thomas, however, to indicate that she will be hired when the league is ready to hire a woman rather than that the league will hire a woman when Thomas is ready to call games in the N.F.L.
Good luck, Sarah, and you are going to need it. Your biggest champion may have just thrown a huge obstacle in your way.
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