Eastin Makes History as First Female NFL Referee, but Not Without Controversy

The official had to cross picket lines to take the field and she is now being accused of gambling

By Steven Covelman and Gordon Tokumatsu
|  Friday, Aug 10, 2012  |  Updated 6:59 AM EDT
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Shannon Eastin will take to the field Thursday night in a game between the San Diego Chargers and the Green Bay Packers. However, she is coming under fire for crossing picket lines and for participating in a poker tournament.

Shannon Eastin will take to the field Thursday night in a game between the San Diego Chargers and the Green Bay Packers. However, she is coming under fire for crossing picket lines and for participating in a poker tournament.

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When Shannon Eastin took the field Thursday night, she made history as the first woman to officiate an NFL game.

Her debut as a line judge during the game between the San Diego Chargers and the Green Bay Packers is being closely followed by a small group of female referees, including some in the L.A. area, who officiate at the high school, college, and international level.

"I just pray that she does a good job so she can open up the door for me and other women officials," Crystal Nichols of Baldwin Hills said.

Nichols has been refereeing for 19 years and knows Eastin from time they spent together at football clinics and camps.

After 16-years of working high school and Division I-AA games, Eastin received her opportunity to officiate on the big stage when the NFL locked out its regular referees because of a labor dispute.

However, once a new deal is reached, Eastin will most likely go back to officiating games in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which includes historically black schools such as Florida A&M and Howard universities among its members.

It’s the first time in 11 years that replacement officials have been used. The 2001 dispute lasted all the way into the first week of the regular season.

None of the officials brought in during the labor crisis over a decade ago were hired by the league, but Nichols believes that crossing the picket line is not detrimental to an official’s career.

"In the NBA there were officials who crossed the line and they’re still working," Nichols said.

But the 42-year-old Eastin may have more issues than being labeled a strike-breaker.

According to reports Thursday by the website profootballtalk.com, Eastin played in the World Series of Poker.

"Gambling is an unacceptable activity for Game Officials in the National Football League," league policy states. "Such activity constitutes conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public trust in, the NFL. Because it is the responsibility of the Game Officials to ensure the fairness of NFL play, including the complete confidence of the fans in the legitimacy of the game, it is critical that NFL Game Officials maintain the appearance of the highest ethical conduct."

However, seemingly contrary to its own rules, the league has already come to Eastin’s defense.

"The NFL does extensive background checks on prospective officials, including the current group of replacement officials,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora told the website. "All of them have passed the NFL’s rigorous screening process, including Shannon Eastin."

Signora went on to tell the website that if Eastin were to become a regular official she would not be allowed to participate in such a gambling event.

Despite the controversy surrounding her past, Eastin will still take to the field as a pioneer.

Fans can expect the possibility of seeing Eastin officiating again at the professional level, as the replacement referees are scheduled to work 16 more games.

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