Super Bowl’s First Female Official Sarah Thomas to be Awarded Doctorate at University of Mobile

Kathy Dean News

MOBILE, Ala. – The University of Mobile will award the Doctor of Humane Letters to Sarah Bailey Thomas, a UM graduate who shattered glass ceilings and became the first female official to work a Super Bowl earlier this year.

Thomas will deliver the commencement address at the outdoor ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 8. Graduation will be held at the Christian university campus on the Dr. Fred and Sue Lackey Great Commission Lawn and live streamed at umobile.edu/graduation.

More than 270 degrees will be awarded, including the first doctoral degrees from the University of Mobile’s new doctoral programs: the Doctor of Musical Arts in vocal performance, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice. The new Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) program begins in August.

University of Mobile President Lonnie Burnett said the university family looks forward to welcoming Thomas back to the campus where her career started in the basketball program as a Lady Ram.

“Sarah epitomizes what we want from our graduates. We tell them to go and make a difference in your chosen field. She never let obstacles keep her from pursuing her dreams,” Burnett said.

Thomas was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Mobile, where she played from 1992 to 1995 and earned Academic All-American honors. She graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and pursued a career in pharmaceutical sales.

Thomas also had a passion for sports. In following her calling, she has made history and shattered glass ceilings. She began her football officiating career in 1996 when she attended a meeting for aspiring football officials with her brother. She officiated at as many high school, junior varsity, middle school and pee-wee games as possible. Her hard work paid off, and in 2007 she was hired by Conference USA to become the first female to officiate for the NCAA’s Major College Football Bowl Division.

In 2015, she became the first full-time female official in NFL history. Her history-making game happened on Sept. 13, 2015, between Kansas City and Houston. Her hat, whistle and flag from that game are now on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On Feb. 7, 2021, she became the first female to officiate a Super Bowl, serving as down judge for Super Bowl LV.

Off the field, Thomas is a marketing specialist for Mid-South Rehab Inc., a national speaker for Keppler Speakers Bureau, and a skin care consultant for Rodan & Fields. She has been a national spokesperson for Activia yogurt; appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning show and Good Morning America; been featured in Good Housekeeping and the New York Times; and was named ABC’s World News Tonight’s Person of the Week in April 2015.


About the University of Mobile

The University of Mobile is a Christ-centered liberal arts and sciences institution with a vision of higher education for a higher purpose, founded to honor God by equipping students for their future professions through rigorous academic preparation and spiritual transformation. Core values are: Christ-Centered, Academically-Focused, Student-Devoted and Distinctively-Driven. The university offers on-campus and online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in over 75 academic programs. Founded in 1961, the University of Mobile is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention and is located 10 miles north of Mobile, Alabama on a campus of over 880 acres.

For more information about the University of Mobile, visit the website at www.umobile.edu or call Enrollment Services at 1.800.WIN.RAMS or 251.442.2222.

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean is assistant vice president for university communications and has helped tell the University of Mobile story since 1993. She is an award-winning public relations professional and former journalist. Her husband and daughter are UM graduates. She loves playing in the yard – planting flowers, picking blueberries, pulling weeds and petting her two mini-schnauzers.