Shannon Eastin breaks barrier
SAN DIEGO -- Shannon Eastin earned her stripes by receiving the ultimate officials' compliment: It was almost as if she wasn't there.
Just being there earned her a place in history.
Unflappable among the oversized players and in the spotlight, Eastin became the first woman to officiate an NFL game Thursday night, serving as the line judge for a seven-man crew working the preseason opener between the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers.
"She was confident and in control," Chargers coach Norv Turner said.
Wearing No. 27 on the back of her official's uniform and her hair tucked under the back of her cap, Eastin was dwarfed by the players as she lined up in front of San Diego's sideline and had a camera following nearly every move before the game.
The 42-year-old from Tempe, Ariz., seemed at ease in the spotlight, though, and had at least two players shake her hand before the opening kickoff.
Though she wasn't involved in many calls until late, Eastin stayed steady among the giants and the national spotlight, earning her stripes by receiving the ultimate officials' compliment: It was almost as if she wasn't there.
"I thought she did a good job of communicating," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I was focused on the Packers, but there was communication before the game."
It's no surprise.
She's a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference of NCAA Division I's Football Championship Subdivision and a 16-year veteran of officiating. Eastin got her NFL shot as a replacement official, among a group taking the place of the regular refs, who are locked out.
And now, she'll have a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Well, at least her cap will; the one she wore Thursday night is headed to Canton.
Replacement officials are working games for the first time in 11 years. Beginning with six games Thursday, they're scheduled to work 16 games this weekend.
The crew working the Hall of Fame Game last Sunday had some shaky moments and the officials at Thursday's game between Buffalo and Washington were booed after muffing a touchback call. That added to Eastin's pressure of being the first woman to officiate an NFL game -- in front of millions of viewers, no less, with the game on ESPN.
Eastin is no stranger to breaking barriers, though.
A multiple national judo champion as a child, she started officiating high school games, moved to colleges and eventually to the MEAC, where she became the first woman to be a crew chief.
Eastin also owns a company called SE Sports Officiating, which trains officials in football and basketball.
Other than her size, Eastin seemed to fit right in before the game, chatting with the other officials, members of the chain crew and a couple of players. Chargers tackle Jeromey Clary and linebacker Antwan Barnes sought her out just before kickoff, shaking her hand and saying a few words before she ran down the sideline for the first time.
Eastin spent most of the first half straddling the line markers and keeping track of the time, without much action on her side of the field.
Things picked up in the second half, when she had to break up a small skirmish between players on a punt and whipped her flag to the middle of the field for a holding call late in the third quarter.
Eastin heard a few boos early in the fourth quarter from the hometown fans for a pass interference call on San Diego's Corey Lynch -- a call she appeared to get right -- and later signaled touchdown when Green Bay's Marc Tyler dived in from 1 yard out.
Eastin added final TD signal on a 1-yard run by San Diego's Curtis Brinkley and was on the spot for a fumble recovery by the Chargers near Green Bay's bench in the closing seconds, though she didn't have to climb into the pile to make the call.
"I think it's exciting for her," Turner said. "It's the first female official ever in the NFL. I got my picture taken with her before the game because it's history and it's reality."
Eastin joins a small group of women to crack the officiating ranks at the highest levels of sports.
Violet Palmer, one of Eastin's inspirations, began officiating NBA games in 1997 and is still in the league.
Bernice Gera became the first woman to work in baseball's minor leagues, serving as an umpire in a New York-Penn League game in 1972.
The NFL Referees Association that is locked out said earlier Thursday that Eastin should be barred from working any league games because she once participated in the World Series of Poker.
The league, though, vetted and accepted Eastin for Thursday night's game.
"The NFL does extensive background checks on prospective officials, including the current group of replacement officials," NFL spokesman Michael Signora said, according to profootballtalk.com. "All of them have passed the NFL's rigorous screening process, including Shannon Eastin. Past participation in an event such as a poker tournament does not disqualify a person from consideration as an NFL game official."
Should she be hired permanently, Eastin would be barred from such events in the future as part of the NFL's gambling policy.Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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