Shannon Eastin is set to become the National Football League’s first female official when she works a preseason game in two days.
Eastin, a 42-year-old former national judo champion, will be a line judge when the San Diego Chargers host the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 9.
Eastin said on a conference call today that she received an e-mail from the NFL asking if she’d consider working during a dispute between the league and the NFL Referees Association. She decided to risk alienating herself from the union and accept.
“Hopefully there’s some understanding on their part that this is an opportunity for me,” Eastin said. “I have to do what’s in the best interest of myself just as they’ve got to do what’s in the best interest of themselves.”
Entering her 17th year as a football official, Eastin has been a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference the past four seasons. The conference is part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s lower-level division.
A 5-foot-5 (165 centimeter) resident of Tempe, Arizona, Eastin is the director of officials for the Arizona Charter Schools Association. She owns SE Sports Officiating LLC, which trains and helps assign officials in several sports.
Eastin said she’s encountered occasional sexism during her career, although the vast majority of people -- especially players -- have been supportive.
“Knowing that I’m a female in a man’s world, I’ve always put the most pressure on myself, understanding that pretty much everything I do is going to be magnified,” she said. “I know what I signed up for.”
The six-time national judo champion began competing in the seniors’ 18-and-older division when she was 11. She said she gave up the sport when she was 15 because judo was years from gaining inclusion in the Olympic program. Women’s judo was added to the games in 1992.
“When I was a child I wanted to play football, but my mother said no,” Eastin said. “So I compromised with judo.”
The NFL said in June it would begin hiring and training replacement officials after talks about a new collective bargaining agreement stalled. The last time the NFL used replacement officials was in 2001, when they worked the final preseason game and the opening weekend of the regular season.