The XFL will boast the most diverse officiating crew in professional football history when it kicks off its inaugural season this weekend.
The league will employ seven female officials, including Amanda Sauer-Cook, who made history last year as the first openly gay referee to work in a major professional football league, when she served as a center judge for the short-lived Alliance of American Football. There will be at least woman on every XFL officiating crew.
As Football Zebras chronicles, Sauer-Cook got her start in officiating when a fellow spectator overheard her shouting about a missed illegal block call while she was watching a high school football game with her daughters. The person recommended Sauer-Cook start attending meetings to become a high school referee in Westchester County, N.Y., which she did. Since then, she’s proudly worn the zebra stripes, and quickly began working her way up the officiating ladder.
Sarah Thomas, the first permanent female referee hired by the NFL, introduced Sauer-Cook to retired NFL referee and former Monday Night Football rules analyst Gerald Austin, who also serves as the supervisor of officials for Conference USA. Shortly thereafter, Sauer-Cook started working Conference USA games, before moving on to the Big Ten Conference.
“I want to be the best official I can be. I haven’t had any really negative experiences with coaches or players making comments regarding the fact I’m a woman,” Sauer-Cook told Football Zebras. “I don’t get anything more than the guys get.”
The crews in the XFL largely mirror those that worked last year in the AAF. The league’s officiating operations are overseen by former NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, who served in the polarizing position from 2013-17. Openly gay Pac-12 official Steve Strimling is the coordinator of officials, mirroring the role he held in the AAF.
Strimling came out publicly in an Outsports profile a couple of years ago.
Two years ago, Sauer-Cook met her wife, Michelle Cook, who was a running back in the Women’s Football Alliance. Sauer-Cook says the two make quite a tandem, and keep each other honest — especially in regards to football matters.
“She brings a great perspective of being a player when we discuss fouls or other issues that may arise in the field,” Sauer-Cook said to Football Zebras.
The XFL will open its season Saturday. Games will be broadcast on ESPN, ABC, Fox, FS1 or FS2.