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Female ref is a field goal for NFL, but it needs a TD

Sarah Thomas makes a call during an NFL preseason game in 2013.
Stacy Revere | Getty Images
Sarah Thomas makes a call during an NFL preseason game in 2013.

It seems like it's been a year of all bad news for the NFL. Its botched handling of the Ray Rice domestic incident and the rash of injury-forced early retirements are just two of the negative themes the league has had to deal with over the last year. But this week the NFL made news of another kind by announcing the hiring of the first female to become a full-time league referee.

Sarah Thomas, 41, who is a pharmaceutical sales representative when she's not officiating, is one of nine new game day officials hired for the 2015 season. She's already overcome great odds, becoming the first woman to officiate a college football bowl game. Thomas also previously officiated training camp practices and preseason games while in the NFL's development league. But what do the big proponents for more jobs for women in male-dominated fields think?

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"It's a really exciting step forward to see the NFL continue to expand its reach with women. Sarah Thomas has proven herself on and off the field," Moira Forbes, President of ForbesWoman and Executive Vice President of Forbes Media told CNBC.

But she also said the NFL still has a very long way to go when it comes to its hiring practices. In a 2014 report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the NFL was given a C-minus grade for its gender hiring practices. That was the lowest grade of any national professional sports league.

While Forbes said it is important to put the best person in any position, she said she's encouraged to see women ascending the ranks. She's hopeful the Thomas hiring will lead to more women breaking the gender barrier in pro sports. How she performs on the field this fall will have a lot to do with it.