Referee Sarah Thomas fires up the suite with role in ‘NFL 100’ spot
Sarah Thomas, who this season became the first full-time female referee to work the playoffs, was standing in the back of NFL COO Maryann Turcke’s suite as the fantastic “NFL 100” commercial played inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the Super Bowl.
Thomas had not seen the spot, but she knew she would be in it, as did guests in the suite who included retired Gen. Lori Robinson, who commanded NORAD from 2016 to 2018, and Royal Bank of Canada Chair Katie Taylor.
The suite stayed quiet — almost tense — until near the end of the two-minute commercial, which is when Thomas made an appearance signaling a first down. The suite’s guests exploded in celebration, hugging and congratulating the trail-blazing woman. The referee’s phone blew up with texts and calls.
Martha Stewart, who was in the neighboring suite, leaned over and asked who Thomas was and why everyone was congratulating her.
“It was super emotional,” Turcke said. “This is an important part of the evolution of our game as we embrace our female fans and other diverse fans.”
Turcke had invited several prominent women to share her suite. In addition to Robinson and Taylor, U.S. hockey players Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan also were in the suite.
Turcke credited her NFL group for coming up with ideas about who to include in the commercial, which also included Beth Mowins, who has called play-by-play for NFL games on ESPN and CBS, and Sam Gordon, the Utah teenage girl who plays high school football.
“[NFL CMO] Tim Ellis is cognizant of engaging diverse sets of fans,” Turcke said. “We know that when people play the game or are involved with the game at a young age, they are way more likely to become avid fans and to engage in a much sharper and more valuable way. For me, I see the upside with young girls, whether it’s flag or tackle. We really wanted to put it out there that this is something that everybody can play.”
Turcke said this is the type of innovative thinking that has helped the NFL thrive over the past 100 years.
“Here’s a peek into the future,” she said. “We’re embracing inclusivity and just taking that next step, which is why you saw Sarah Thomas and Sam Gordon and Beth Mowins in that spot.”