First female NFL official debuts | The Triangle

First female NFL official debuts

Referee Ed Hochuli, right, talks with other officals during a timeout in a game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns in Baltimore, Md.
It may only be the preseason, but the NFL can still make history and reach milestones. That was the case Aug. 9 when Shannon Eastin became the first female to officiate a game at the NFL level.

Eastin, 42, served as the line judge in the Packers-Chargers preseason opener. She did so while receiving a warm reception from players around the league, including superstars Larry Fitzgerald and Charles Woodson.

Before reaching the NFL level, Eastin, who stands at five feet five inches, was an official for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for 17 years. She has spent the majority of her time as a referee in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, which is only one level below the major college games.

Although she had tenure on her resume, she admitted to being nervous for the assignment during a pregame news conference at which she spoke two days before the game. She also said that she would view herself as a pioneer.

“I would say probably most of the way, to some degree, yes,” Eastin said.

In her debut game, Eastin was active and was in on a handful of calls. Eastin threw five flags, including a crucial fourth-quarter pass interference call, which was supported by replay. She even received praise from Jon Gruden on ESPN’s broadcast of the game, impressing him by breaking up a scuffle between opposing players.

This was all possible due to the labor dispute between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association, which forced the NFL to seek replacement officials. The officials have been locked out since June 3 as the two sides have been working toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

Critics claim she is perhaps being used as a pawn in the grand scheme of the negotiations.

There has been opposition from the union regarding Eastin’s officiating. She is crossing the picket line to break ground. The league contacted her in the offseason when negotiation with veteran officials hit a snag and a lockout began to look possible. There is a possibility that the union will not allow her to work games when the dispute is resolved because she crossed the picket line. That being the case, she was more concerned with getting her chance in the highest level of American football.

According to a report, the union went as far as questioning her qualifications to officiate a game because of her past participation in the World Series of Poker. The NFL, however, gave its approval, citing the background check they performed on each candidate. If she were to become a full-time official, Eastin would be prohibited from participating in the poker tournament as well as any other events of a gambling nature.

Eastin said she is going to work for as long as the NFL needs her. When that may no longer be the case, she will look to return to the college game.

Eastin’s cap and whistle were sent to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, after the game to commemorate the historic occasion.