Shannon Eastin wanted to play football as a child.
Her mom said no, and judo became her compromise. She went onto become a six-time national champion, home-schooling as a sacrifice to her training schedule.
Likewise, she’s pursuing another ambition now, which will be realized this week when she becomes the first female official in an NFL game.
The 42-year-old Eastin will work as the line judge in Thursday’s Chargers-Packers game, becoming a pioneer. But because of her official’s training, she’d prefer to be anonymous.
“This is my dream,” Eastin said Tuesday on a conference call. “There are moments I can’t believe it and I get teary eyed.
“But I want to go unnoticed. I know everybody will be watching me, but I just want to do my job.”
Eastin admitted she’s gotten some negative feedback from some retired and locked-out officials because of her decision to work as a replacement. But she said the majority of her experience has been positive.
She mentioned retired official Red Cashion as someone who has supported her work, and said during a recent day spent in Cardinals camp, that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald “was extremely kind.”
Eastin has 17 years of officiating experience, four years as a football referee in the MEAC and has worked Division I basketball in the WAC and Sun Belt. She said she’s been floored by the recent reaction to her assignment.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “Players have always reacted well to me. I’m not sure why. I just think people want to see other people do well.
“Players have been willing to joke with me like one of the guys.”
She did say there have been coaches not so generous, and she can spot those before games start. She’s even had co-workers on officiating crews ask her why she’s trying to join a male-dominated world, since she never played the game.
Eastin was contacted by the NFL earlier this year by email, asking if she wanted to take part in training to become a replacement.
She admitted the idea of becoming what some consider a “scab” gave her second thoughts, but ultimately, the chance to fulfill a lifelong ambition changed her mind. She knows she’ll be graded on a different scale than others because of her gender, but said she wanted to use her platform to tell others in similar positions to focus on the work ahead of them.
“I would say don’t let anyone tell you being a woman won’t let you do certain things,” she replied, when asked if she had a message for young girls. “You have to surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed.
“I want to encourage women, don’t be afraid to have dreams. This is an example that dreams really can come true.”
(Photo credit: sesportsofficiating.wordpress.com)