Will the NFL Exploit Its First Female Referee?

Congratulations, Sarah Thomas! The National Football League hired Thomas in early April, making thomas_Sarah_practice71her the first full-time female referee in the NFL’s 95-year history.

Thomas has a pretty impressive resume: working high school games in 1999, the first woman to officiate an NCAA game in 2007, the first female official to work a college bowl game in 2009, and the first woman to officiate in a Big Ten stadium in 2011. She has also done sideline work for the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts during minicamp practices.

Although the married mother of three who also works in pharmaceutical sales told USA Today she’s “ecstatic” and “blessed,” not everyone is joining the celebration.

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks told TMZ that he wondered if the NFL was “more interested in scoring publicity points than placing quality officials on the field.”

“It’s just like the Michael Sam situation – if he wasn’t gay, he would have gone undrafted. Instead, the league drafts him because I think they are trying to monopolize every aspect of the world. The same thing with a female ref. For the league, it’s great publicity. The NFL is all about monopolizing every opportunity.”

 
As exciting as the announcement can be, Marks makes a good point. Just one year ago, the league was dealing with a public relations nightmare: multiple players accused of domestic violence. The NFL is now trying to get back in good graces with women. A 30-second PSA aired during the first quarter of the Super Bowl to encourage viewers to pledge an end to domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Drew Harwell with The Washington Post points out women are pro football’s most valuable players, making up an estimated 45% of the the NFL’s more than 150 American fans. Harwell cites C. Keith Harrison, a University of Central Florida associate professor, with finding women make or influence 85% of disposable-income purchasing decisions.

Female fans, a group beloved by advertisers, represent the league’s biggest opportunity for growth. Keeping these women spending has become a chief goal of the NFL.”

Thomas told USA Today she doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer. She says she plans to “wear her hair tucked up into her hat,” but will the NFL let her “blend in with the rest of her crew?” It may be too early to tell.

Do you know the name of other referees? Probably not. I’m going to put money on the idea that Thomas will be a household name by the end of the upcoming season for more than just her line judging during games.

Safely Playing the Social Media Game

Social media is a difficult game to play. There are very little rules, the boundaries are barely visible, and you rarely know your opponents. It doesn’t matter how fast they run, athletes can’t get away from social media.

It’s a dialogue, not a monologue, and some people don’t understand that. Social media is more like a telephone than a television.” -Amy Jo Martin

7910370882_e2d8bfd3b4_oIt’s an unspoken requirement for athletes to manage a presence on multiple social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. According to Kevin DeShazo with Fieldhouse Media, the goal is to be yourself, engaging, and interactive.

Social media can allow fans to build personal connections with their idols, which leads to better ticket sales, sponsorships, and fundraising. According to a 2011 study, sport spectators are 55% more likely to purchase a product if it has been tweeted or written about on social media by one of their favorite athletes.

Athletes have to stay at the top of their game. Social media can be very rewarding, but it can also ruin a career with just one post going viral in a matter of seconds. DeShazo told student reporters at Oklahoma State University that says most professionals don’t understand social media’s power and reach. He suggests they keep in mind that each post resembles holding a news conference. The golden rule: think before hitting send.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel accidentally tweeted his cell phone number to Johnny_Manziel_in_Kyle_Fieldmore than a million followers last October. He claims he thought he was sending his digits in a direct message.

Former San Diego Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie was fined $2,500 in August 2009 for blaming “nasty food” from keeping the Bolts from the making it to the Super Bowl.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall sent out a series of tweets after American troops killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. After scolding users for celebrating the terrorist leader’s death, Champion dropped its sponsorship deal with Mendenhall.

Location, location, location. Athletes will unknowingly give out their location because the location services on their phone is enabled. A word from the wise: don’t tweet until the event is over and you’ve left.

It’s crucial for a sport organization to closely monitor all social media accounts affiliated with its brand. Educating athletes is the first step in preventing a mistake that could come with harsh repercussions. Darren Rovell’s “100 Twitter Rules to Live By” is a great launching pad.