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