Seeing as how the NFL is not making much progress in reaching a deal with the NFL Referees Association, it appears that Shannon Eastin will become the first female to officiate a regular season NFL game. As part of a group of replacement officials, Eastin made her league debut on Aug. 9, serving as the line judge for a preseason match-up between the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers. Breaking all sorts of barriers being on the field with hulking men twice her size, I can’t help but wonder if she would have gotten this opportunity if it weren’t for faltering contract negotiations.
Unfortunately, that does seem to be the case. The NFL Referees Association has been arguing that Eastin should not be allowed to work any league games, questioning her credentials as an unbiased official for being affiliated with high-stakes poker. If you ask me, that’s the most absurd thing I have ever heard. Mike Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating, said, if her gambling past had been uncovered in her background check, Eastin likely would have never been hired in the first place.
While I understand the level of addiction people associate with gambling, I don’t think someone who has no history of gambling on sporting events should be punished for taking an interest in the World Series of Poker. It’s not like they hired Pete Rose, for crying out loud. Even though her gambling past has been deemed acceptable, if she does end up being hired permanently once the lockout is over, the NFL’s gambling policy would prevent her from officiating such events in the future.
Personally, I don’t see one reason why the NFL shouldn’t keep a 16-year officiating veteran like Eastin on board. A former national judo champion, she began officiating high school games, moved up to the college level and eventually to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. It was in the MEAC that Eastin became the first woman to serve as a crew chief. She also owns SE Sports Officiating, a company that trains officials in football and basketball. Clearly, she’s no stranger to the game.
Regardless of how things pan out and whether or not she becomes a permanent fixture on the gridiron, Eastin is truly an inspiration to women across the country. The hat she wore during the Packers-Chargers game will be showcased in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so she’s already made her mark on the league. And she now joins a small group of women who have broken into officiating at the highest levels of sports, inspiring her to follow suit.
Violet Palmer began her NBA officiating career in 1997 and is still in the league. Bernice Gera served as an umpire during a New York-Penn League game in 1972, becoming the first female to work in Minor League Baseball. In 1989, Pam Postema umpired MLB spring training games and, with the help of commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, was able to make it up to the Triple-A level.
While I’m sure she will receive a fair amount of flack for being a female AND a referee – that woman must have balls of steel – I really do hope the NFL gives Eastin the chance she deserves. After all, this is the 21st Century. I’m surprised it took this long for a woman to reach the pro football officiating ranks, to tell you the truth. I give Eastin props for taking the Amelia Earhart approach and not letting her male counterparts intimidate her. Hmm, I wonder if she’d consider running for president …