The NFL’s on-field gender barrier has officially been broken, as Shannon Eastin became the first female referee to officiate a game. Eastin served as a line judge in a seven-person crew in the San Diego Chargers’ 21-13 preseason win over the Green Bay Packers Thursday night.
42-year-old Eastin is a 16-year veteran from Tempe, Arizona and is a referee in the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference of NCAA Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision. Although she is only a replacement judge at the moment, while regular referees are locked out, there is a possibility that she could be hired permanently in the future.
The NFL Referees Association said that Eastin should be barred from officiating league games because she once participated in the World Series of Poker. NFL spokesman Mike Signora said the NFL does extensive background checks on its prospective officials and that all of them — including Eastin — passed the screening process.
“Past participation in an event such as a poker tournament does not disqualify a person from consideration as an NFL game official,” Signora said.
However, if Eastin is hired permanently, she would be barred from participating in such events under the NFL’s gambling policy.
Shannon Eastin is just one of a handful of women ever to officiate in professional sports. Violet Palmer began officiating NBA games in 1997 and is still in the league, and Bernice Gera became the first woman to serve as an umpire in a New York-Penn minor league game in 1972.
Some players recognized the significance of Eastin’s presence and took the time to shake her hand before the game. Chargers tackle Jeromey Clary and linebacker Antwan Barnes caught up with her prior to kick off to speak with her briefly before she made her first run down the sideline. Chargers coach Norv Turner complimented her saying, “She was confident and in control” and that he got his picture with her before the game.
As the first female referee, Shannon Eastin has made NFL history, and her cap from Thursday night’s game will be placed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio to commemorate her accomplishment.