Mina Kimes and Sarah Thomas, two of the most prominent women in the sports world, visited Miami University on Monday, Feb. 20, as a part of the University Lecture Series.
Kimes is an award winning journalist and an NFL analyst. She currently works for ESPN, where she appears on TV often and co-hosts her own NFL podcast, “The Mina Kimes Show featuring Lenny” (the other host is her dog Lenny). She is one of the first women and Asian Americans to be an NFL analyst.
Thomas became the first full-time woman official in NFL history in 2015. She became the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game in 2019, and in 2020 she was on the officiating crew for the Super Bowl.
The two trailblazers participated in a seminar at Hall Auditorium, ate dinner with select students at the Goggin Club Lounge, and then gave a talk on Title IV and women in sports at Hall Auditorium. Finally, the pair traveled to the second floor of McGuffey Hall for a reception with anyone who wanted to attend.
Kimes and Thomas were joined on stage for their talk by Miami Associate Athletic Director Jennifer Gilbert, who served as the moderator. The three discussed Kimes’s and Thomas’s roads to success and the obstacles they overcame on the way there.
Kimes talked about her beginnings in the sports industry.
“I started with this fantasy football show that was at 6 a.m. that even my parents didn’t listen to,” Kimes said. “I would prepare about 40 pages of fantasy football notes and use about one. But people noticed and remembered that when it was time to consider me for my next opportunity. I learned to embrace what made me different. I became comfortable acting how I acted in the green room or at dinner. I realized my annoying laugh wasn’t something to hide.”
Thomas was talking to her brother one day and asked what he was doing later that night.
“He said he was going to a football officials’ meeting,” Thomas said. “I said, naturally, ‘can girls do that?’ and he said ‘I guess so.’ I joined him there, I had no idea that women weren’t officiating football, no idea that we got paid. I was 23, so I’m knocking on nearly 30 years of officiating football.”
On Christmas Eve 2016, Thomas was officiating a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. She broke her wrist with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter but returned for the rest of the game.
“I got trucked by Kyle Rudolph [a 6-foot-6-inch, 265 pound former Vikings tight end],” Thomas said. “So I go back to the sideline and they tell me I have a broken wrist. I look up at the TV monitor and there’s four minutes left in the game. I just put the splint on and said ‘I’m going back into the game.’ … NFL security said you’re not serious. But I came back out because why wouldn’t I finish the game? …Scott Edwards was my deep wing official and he said ‘I was so glad you came back in because I had no idea what I was doing on the line of scrimmage.’”
Thomas now has a plate, seven screws and a pin in that wrist.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
“My boys, when I called, they were like ‘Mom, are you ok?’” Thomas said. “And I said ‘yeah, I just have a broken wrist.’ And they said ‘well you do know that you just got run over by Rudolph on Christmas Eve.’”
Kimes and Thomas faced questions from the crowd after their talk finished up. Thomas said she couldn’t answer a question about the holding call against James Bradberry from the game winning drive of the Super Bowl. Kimes answered a question about how she thought the Indianapolis Colts 2023 season would go. She wasn’t particularly optimistic. Both women gave answers to students looking for advice on careers, mindsets and handling being a woman in male dominated areas.
As public figures and women working in football, one of the most male-dominated industries out there, both have faced hostile attitudes toward their work. Both are pros now at handling it.
“Don’t try to prove people wrong,” Thomas said. “You’re going to be exhausted for all the wrong reasons. Prove to yourself that you belong where you are.”
Kimes gets backlash on social media, but she doesn’t think it’s nearly as bad as when she started. She said she loves when a man tweets at her to disagree with her take.
“Now that’s progress!” Kimes said. “That’s normalization.”