“Mother of Three” to Ref for the NFL: What’s Being a Mom Got to Do With It?

mother of three to referee NFL

Sarah Thomas is poised to become the first permanent female referee in the NFL. That’s some pretty big news for women who love sports. But apparently some people writing the headlines on this story think that because she’s a mom, that’s the nugget of information to lead with.

The Maryland “mother of three,” who learned to love football growing up with a football-playing brother was identified by NBC Nightly News as the “mom” who was about to make NFL history. Stephanie Gosk interviewed Thomas two years ago and commented in an interview that was re-aired this past week, that when Thomas was moving up in the ranks of football refs, she had a baby who was only seven-months-old.

So what did her having a baby mean to the story of her newsworthy career in football? Was she a bad mom for working, a good mom for working in football, or a bad mom for going back to work so soon? Or was it incredible that you could be a woman who loves football and have children? Or just incredible that you could have children and do anything else? Ever.

Women are labeled in the news as “Mother of Two,” or  “Mother of Three,” when nothing in the rest of their newsworthiness is about their being mothers. You don’t need to be a mom to ref the NFL. You don’t need to be a mom to love football, but now we all know that Sarah Thomas — a groundbreaking woman in sports — is a “Mother of Three.” What possible additional information about her or her story does this information give us?

Sadly, Thomas is hardly the first woman of significant accomplishment to be highlighed with the “mom” brush. When Samantha Power became the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, The Today Show interviewed her in her kitchen. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her book A Problem from Hell: American and the Age of Genocide, but in news coverage she’s reduced to just a struggling Mother of Two.

Or what about the two women, one of them an Assistant Secretary of State, who became the top negotiators in the newly drafted re-opening of U.S. relations with Cuba? Both were described by NBC News Anchor Andrea Mitchell as Mothers-of-Two.

Or, one of my personal favorites, how about the famous June 2014 interview that Matt Lauer had so much trouble with when he asked General Motors CEO Mary Barra about balance? However do you do it, he wondered. How will you be able to do it? And wasn’t G.M. looking for a softer, more friendly-looking CEO anyway? Isn’t that really why they hired a Mother-of-Two? ‘Cuz she was softer?

Even U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, also a Mother-of-Two, was sucked into this vortex when she was interviewed by Ami Desai last August on OWN.  The topic? “Can women truly have it all?” The answer? “It’s really hard.”

Remarkably, it’s predominantly women journalists reducing even Sen. Warren to “weighing in” on whether it is even possible to be both mom and professionally successful. Is the media subtext here that you have to be a great mom before you can make the news doing anything else? That for single or childless women, somehow their success isn’t that surprising? Or remarkable? Or even newsworthy?

Yet, how many of you reading this can tell me, off the top of your head, whether or not the Governor of Indiana has children? Do you care? Is he ever referred to as a “Father-of-Three?”

Mom Robs Bank. Mom Kills Intruder. If you’ve done something and you happen to be a mom, these days you can expect that little fact to show up in a headline, even though you virtually never see one that mentions “Father Does [fill in the blank].

It’s understandable and appropriate to include the “Mother of Two” title to women whose children are why they are in the news, but it’s saying something altogether different when a woman is appointed to a top position in her field and suddenly, the number of children she has is front and center in her description.

I didn’t know Sen. Warren had children. I do not care all that much if she does, although I’m delighted when anyone has the chance to raise children because it’s been so important and so satisfying in my own life. I speak as a Mother of Four.

You know, just last week, Michelle Obama appeared on the Tonight Show “mom dancing” with Jimmy Fallon. She’s the first African-American first lady of the United States, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, but, oh yeah, a Mother of Two.

I hope that Sarah Thomas gets the nod and is given the chance to ref in the big league because she’s just the kind of person the NFL could use right about now: an experienced, hard-working, no nonsense, football-loving referee. Let’s focus on her work. It’s wrong to diminish her achievements by counting the number of children she’s raising.

Anne Born is a New York-based writer who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood.  She blogs on The Backpack Press and Tumbleweed Pilgrim and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one.  She is the author of “A Marshmallow on the Bus” and “Prayer Beads on the Train” and a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain.  Most of her writing is done on the bus.  www.about.me/anneborn. You can follow Anne on Wattpad, Instagram, and Twitter at @nilesite.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License

  • radicalhw

    Dammit, not this again!

    • anne

      That would be correct.

  • Colin

    I find this article to be interesting but dumb at the same time. Successful women on television are successful for what they do and if they are raising children at the same time then that makes their success even better. If they can have children and work or do anything else then that’s amazing. Taking care of a child takes a lot of work and time and if these women can do it props to them. You never see anything on the internet or on tv about fathers who just had children go back to work. Let’s focus on the womens’ work and achievements and not on how many children they are raising.

  • Helen

    This MOF (mom of four) feels it’s part of my story but when I rob a bank, please don’t include momdom it headline. It’s not fair to the kids!

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