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First female official doesn’t earn stripes, milestone comes with asterisk



Shannon Eastin at Cardinals practice on July 28.

According to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, former Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference referee Shannon Eastin has been assigned as an official for Thursday’s Packers-Chargers preseason game. It is the first time a female has been assigned to officiate an NFL game, preseason or otherwise.

While this is a monument of women’s athletic achievement, that monument sits in the shadow of the lockout of the NFL’s regular officiating crews. The pall is even darker, as the bar for entry was lowered for all replacement officials.

In 2009, we wrote about five women who were promoted to the officiating ranks of Division I college football, one of them being Eastin. At the time, we projected out the timeline for seeing the first female official, with our focus on Sarah Thomas of Conference USA:

As for the prospect of seeing women in the NFL stripes, current guidelines require 10 seasons of collegiate experience to be considered. That means 2017, at the earliest.

Eastin served as head referee for three seasons in the MEAC, far short of the ten years required for a professional official. It is uncertain why she is not working there this season. As with a strike/lockout in any industry, those that work while the regulars sit have virtually no chance of being accepted at that employer once the union employees return. Even if the league found one of the replacement officials worthy of hiring as a regular official, they have all been blacklisted by the union membership.

One of the requirements for the replacement officials is to not have other officiating obligations this year. That means that the officials working have retired, quit or were fired from their previous employer. Obviously, there is little gain for those to voluntarily leave, but there are some officials that made such a choice, especially those at the end of a career.

We are not certain of her on-field position in the NFL, but since she served as the crew chief in college, it is possible that we will hear her voice over the public-address system on Thursday as well. Update, Aug. 7: We have learned that Eastin will officiate as line judge on Thursday.

So, we won’t have to wait until 2017 to see a woman break the “grass ceiling” in the NFL. The honor of the first female referee in NFL history passes to someone who is only qualified by the revised league standards and essentially backed into the position. The occasion deserves better.

Photo: Mike Jurecki, XTRA 910 Sports

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)