A woman ref will officiate an NFL game for the first time ever this week

Shannon Eastin
Photo via the Los Angeles Times.

With the NFL and their regular referees locked in contract negotiations, the league is relying on replacement officials this pre-season. And on Thursday night, for the first time, one of those refs will be a woman.

Shannon Eastin is on the verge of becoming the first woman to work as an on-field official in a game, as she has been assigned as a line judge for Green Bay’s exhibition game Thursday at San Diego.

Eastin has been a referee for high school games in Arizona as well as in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which includes Bethune-Cookman, Coppin State and Howard University.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing that the replacement refs in general aren’t up to NFL caliber. Julie Hayes writes that it’s a “travesty” to throw a ref with Eastin’s resume into an NFL game and call it “making history.” She notes that another female ref, Sarah Thomas, is the most NFL-ready woman currently in the game and was expected to eventually become the league’s first female ref, but she wasn’t available.

While that’s maybe disappointing for Thomas, I’d say it’s still progress that the NFL isn’t being hindered by gender as it searches for replacement refs. After all, there’s a long tradition of women breaking into male-dominated fields when unusual circumstances shake things up. (Remember when all the menfolk went to war and we suddenly decided it was alright for all the ladies to work?) And Eastin’s background is on par with the other male replacement refs.

Indeed, the Chargers players seem awesomely psyched that they’ll get to host this groundbreaking game. “That’s awesome,” Nick Hardwick said. “Cool! Obviously that is historic and it is historic in a fantastic way.” While they may be concerned that these replacement refs mess up some calls, as Jacob Hester says, “As long as they get it right more than they get it wrong, it does not matter if it is a man or a woman.”

For the sake of the game, hopefully all the replacements refs, including Eastin, hold their own. And hopefully seeing a woman on the field on Thursday night will help hasten the day when female refs are part of the NFL’s regular crews.

h/t to Goody

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/cassius/ Brüno

    So to get this right, while the men are negotiating for better conditions a bunch of people, among which this woman, crossed the picket line and work for less?

    • http://feministing.com/members/decius/ Dan

      While some people are saying “We refuse to work under these terms” a different group is saying “We are willing to work under these terms”. The only thing under discussion here is “Are these refs going to do a good job?”

      And apparently there’s some people who say that the replacements won’t be doing a good job, because they only(!) have experience with officiating less prestigious college games.

      • http://feministing.com/members/james/ James

        That’s not the only thing under discussion here.

        The owners are locking out the current referees because they are in a contract dispute, and hiring scabs in their place.

        For those who support organized labor and recognize its necessity to society, whether or not the scab referees are going to “do a good job” is secondary to whether or not they are undermining the labor movement by scabbing. She and the other scab referees are helping the owners, who make money hand over fist, screw over the current officiating crews.

        I would support her much more if she made public that she had been offered the job, and then publicly turned it down in order to stand with labor, rather than giving the NFL a publicity bump by scabbing.

  • http://feministing.com/members/delapore/ James

    Yeah, as much as I love that my favorite sport is opening up to female referees I just can’t be happy about scabs. Good for her, but personally I wish she hadn’t helped a bunch of multibillionaires nickle and dime the skilled (and vastly underpaid compared to other sports) officiating crews. I’d be all for it if she had joined through the union.