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Shannon Eastin Set To Become First Female To Officiate NFL Game

Tonight, Shannon Eastin will break a gender barrier: The line judge will become the first woman to officiate an NFL game.

In a conference call today, she told the AP she wasn't intimidated.

"I want to encourage women: Don't be afraid," Eastin said. "Pursue and have dreams. This is my dream. With very step I hope to show it really doesn't matter if you are male or female."

The thing is that Eastin is stepping into the role during a difficult time. She is a replacement official because the regular officials are currently locked out because of a labor dispute.

In other words, some of the regulars view her as a scab and once a deal is struck, she may well be out of a job. It's complicated and its left many torn. Just read Jane McManus' commentary on ESPN W.

She points out that Sarah Thomas, a Conference USA official, has been working for this moment longer than Eastin. She's also worked at a higher level and faced more scrutiny than Eastin. Yet, Thomas would not take this gig, because it would involve crossing the picket line and potentially giving up a long-term career.

McManus writes:

"The fact is that the NFL has been evaluating female officials alongside male officials for some time. The NFL's head of officials, Carl Johnson, said last year he thought a woman would be officiating soon. He said the league did not care about gender as much as it did about ability.

"Eastin, who will be the line judge for the Green Bay Packers-San Diego Chargers preseason game Thursday, will be subjected to intense scrutiny. Many women want to see a sister succeed in a pioneering role. But we are also aware that if she fails, because of a lack of training and support, it will make it harder for the next woman to come along."

In the conference call, Eastin shrugged off all that criticism. This is her opportunity to show that she is capable, she said.

"Hopefully there is some understanding on their part I have got to do what's in the best interest of myself, just as they have to do what is in their best interest," Eastin told the AP about the regular officials.

Not that fans usually tune in to watch the officials, but in case you wanted to do that, the game airs on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET tonight.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.