Phyllis Diller famously said that the reason women don’t play football is because you could never get 11 of them to wear the same outfit in public. When Shannon Eastin takes the field in San Diego on Thursday, she won’t have that problem, because she’ll be the only woman on the field wearing the black and white stripes of a referee.
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During Thursday’s exhibition game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Diego Chargers, Eastin is slated to make history as the first woman to officiate an NFL football game. While Eastin is more than qualified to officiate — she’s long been a college-level referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference — her chance to break through the NFL’s glass ceiling is due to locked doors. The NFL and its referees have been involved in a labor dispute that resulted in a lockout on June 3rd, when the labor agreement between the league and the NFL Referees Association lapsed.
With the regular season just weeks away, the NFL is training replacement officials for the upcoming games. But the ref camps aren’t going smoothly: the league’s referee trainers — who are mostly former NFL officials themselves — have refused to train the replacements, including Eastin. Whether that was due to her gender or to the ongoing labor dispute is unclear. NFL.com reports that, “The officiating trainers — a group of nine of the game’s most respected former officials — were asked to turn in their company-issued laptops after refusing to train Eastin and others.”
Regardless of the reasons behind the barrier-breaking moment, when Eastin takes the field as part of the officiating crew on Thursday, it will be history in the making. The game starts at 8 p.m. ET on Aug. 9 and will be broadcast on ESPN.