Shannon Eastin became the NFL’s first female referee today, working as the line judge in the Rams-Lions matchup at Ford Field, and many people didn’t even know she was there … which is a good thing.
”It’s a great milestone,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said after his team beat St. Louis 27-23. ”But we didn’t think about it all during the game.”
And that is just the way she – and the league – liked it.
Eastin is one of the replacement officials hired by the league while their regular officials are locked out. Replacement officials are working NFL games for the first time in 11 years.
She made her first milestone last month when she became the first female official to work an NFL preseason game when Green Bay played at San Diego. The Pro Football Hall of Fame already has the hat and whistle she used during that preseason game, and it is expected that they will display them in Canton, Ohio.
Eastin, a 42-year-old resident of Tempe, Ariz. has worked as a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (college football’s second-highest level) and has 16 years of officiating experience. MEAC officials declined comment on Eastin, as did the NFL in the days leading up to her first game.
”Commenting on individual officials is not something we do,” league spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email. ”Her place in league history speaks for itself.”
”She’s well prepared for it, and I think she’ll do terrific,” NFL Commissioner Goodell said last month. ”So we’re excited about that.
”And there are more coming, by the way. We’ve been working along this path to try to properly train and prepare a female official, and now we have the opportunity.”
The NFL has sheltered Eastin from the media during the weeks leading up to the game and didn’t allow them to have access to her following the Rams-Lions game, but they did set up a conference call with her back in August.
”I hope to show it really doesn’t matter if you are male or female,” Eastin said last month.
Eastin is originally from Worcester, Mass., and her background includes being a multiple national judo champion as a child. She first got involved in football by officiating high school games, and then moved on to the college level. She owns a company called SE Sports Officiating, which trains officials in football and basketball.
”I’ll be working even harder, to show I am capable and I am where I should be,” Eastin has said.
Kathy Babiak, co-director of SHARP, a partnership between the Women’s Sports Foundation and the University of Michigan, had the following words of encouragement for Eastin.
”It shows the strides women and girls in sports have been making since Title IX was passed 40 years ago,” Babiak said. ”Before Title IX, these kinds of opportunities for women and girls were not even imaginable. It shows that women and girls have a desire, interest and ability to work in sports at all levels – even men’s professional sports.”
”Some girl will be watching Sunday and say, `Hey, I want to do the same thing!”’
Information from The Associated Press was used in this column.