Ever since Shannon Eastin became the first woman to referee an NFL football game in 2012, the clock has been ticking for the NFL to appoint more women to officiate games. Sarah Thomas made history when she became the first permanent female referee in the NFL back in 2015, and Kathryn Smith and Katie Sowers shattered another glass ceiling by becoming the first and second female assistant coaches in NFL history. However, despite making some progress, the NFL nonetheless passed over women entirely when appointing the officiating crew for the 52nd Super Bowl.
The seven-member officiating crew, led by referee Gene Steratore, will be comprised entirely of men. Steratore is more than qualified; he has been an NFL referee since 2006. His officiating crew consists of Roy Ellison as umpire, Jerry Bergman as down judge, Byron Boston as line judge, Tom Hill as field judge, Scott Edwards as side judge, and Perry Paganelli as back judge. Additionally, Paul Weidner will serve as the replay official.
However, this means that women will still have been part of the Super Bowl officiating crew exactly zero times following this year's showdown between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles — and that may be due to a systemic issue. In order to be selected for the Super Bowl officiating officiating crew, officials must have at least five years of NFL experience. They must also have executed previous playoff assignments, and receive a top tier rating from the league.
As a result, despite having two decades of officiating experience, Thomas wouldn't qualify to serve on the Super Bowl officiating crew, because she has only refereed for the NFL since 2015. However, Terri Valenti — who last year became the NFL's first female instant replay official — has had five years of experience with instant replay in the NFL, before being hired as an official. And yet, Valenti was passed on being selected as the Super Bowl replay official.
But perhaps it's necessary to consider that the absence of women from the Super Bowl officiating crew may be due to the barriers they face in meeting the necessary qualifications. Very few women meet the necessary requirements because they haven't had five years of NFL experience — and that's because it's taken so long for the NFL to hire female officials in the first place.
In so many ways that matter, Thomas and Valenti are more than qualified to be on the Super Bowl officiating crew. Thomas has been officiating football for more than two decades. She refereed high school games for 10 years and college football games for eight before becoming an NFL referee in 2015. Valenti, meanwhile, was an on-field official for games on the high school, college, minor league, and international league levels prior to joining the NFL.
Another prominent woman in NFL history is Beth Mowins, a sportscaster who last year became the first woman to call an NFL game in 30 years. Mowins will not be an official announcer for the 2018 Super Bowl, but at least in this case, another woman has scored one of the top jobs. NBC's Michele Tafoya will work as a sideline reporter during the game, and it won't be her first time covering the Super Bowl, either. Even though Tafoya will play an important role, however, the all-male officiating crew should still raise questions about how the NFL passes over women.
Last year, Reuters reported that roughly 45 percent of the NFL's fanbase was women, and that the NFL was increasing its efforts to attract more young female fans. In some ways, the NFL has made some important strides toward achieving this goal; the league now has multiple women in prominent roles, notably as officials, coaches, or team owners. However, as Felix Gillette wrote for Bloomberg last month, the NFL may need to reassess how it plans to maintain its female fanbase.
Both the NFL and the league's media organization, the NFL Network, have had to tackle numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against players and commentators, Gillette explained. The NFL has been embroiled in sexual harassment scandals for years, and even if the league is finally starting to open its doors to female officials, it still remains largely male-dominated. Consequently, more mainstream representation for women at a high-profile event like the Super Bowl would not resolve the systemic sexism at play in the NFL, but it also likely would not go amiss.