GREEN BAY, Wis. — For the first time in league history, a female referee will officiate an NFL game Thursday night.
Shannon Eastin, a referee from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, will wear the officiating stripes when the Green Bay Packers travel to San Diego to play the Chargers for each team’s preseason opener.
When that news hit the Packers’ locker room Monday afternoon, the players were surprised but supportive that a female would be given such an opportunity.
“Female, male, dog, cat, as long as they’re calling the right calls and they know what they’re doing out there, it really doesn’t matter,” tight end Jermichael Finley told FOXSportsWisconsin.com in an exclusive interview. “It’s a person. She’ll see the same things as a man. She knows how to blow the whistle the same way.
“It’s going to be something weird to see, but you deal with it and just roll.”
With the league and NFL Referees Association currently in contract negotiations, the NFL has been training replacements since June.
Replacement referees called their first preseason action Sunday night in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, where the New Orleans Saints beat the Arizona Cardinals 17-10.
Some replacement referees will be coming into the NFL from lower college ranks, as Eastin is doing. But she is the only female to make the jump.
“I think it’s great,” Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. “Especially in football, being such a machismo sport, you get the cliche that this is a man’s game. But obviously she’s taken the right protocol, she obviously had the proper training, and hopefully she does a good job for her sake (and) for future female football fans that are considering wanting to be a female official.”
Later, as a small group of reporters formed, Raji was asked if he would hesitate to complain about a call to a female referee.
“Hopefully she’s the line judge so I can work her a little bit,” he said with a laugh. “I hope she does well. I’m sure she will.”
Raji is getting his wish. The NFL confirmed that Eastin will be the line judge Thursday.
Eastin is entering her 17th season as a football official, the past four of which have been spent at the Football Championship Subdivision level (formerly known as Division I-AA).
Like the players she officiates, the Tempe, Ariz., resident is an athlete. She has won six national judo championships and, at age 11, was the youngest judo athlete accepted to train at the United States Olympics Training Center.
Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove seemed surprised, but accepting, when told a woman would be part of the officiating crew Thursday.
“Really?” said Hargrove, who is suspended for eight games for his role in the New Orleans Saints’ Bountygate. “Wow. That’s impressive. I think that’s great strides for women in reffing. My son’s mom is a ref, so maybe she can switch over to football and she can ref one of my games or something.”
Packers running back Brandon Saine had also not yet heard the news about Eastin.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Saine said. “I grew up in a predominantly female household. I was raised by my grandmother and my mother and I have two sisters. Women have always been a huge part of my life and I’m always going to be supportive of anything like that.”
Regardless of gender, Raji said he is OK with replacement referees “for now.”
“Let’s face it, some of the regular referees have some questionable calls,” Raji added. “It’s going to happen, it’s human error, but hopefully with the replay and the refs up in the booth, if there is a mistake, hopefully it will get corrected.”