Congratulations to Shannon Eastin, a woman who will make history this Thursday as the first woman to ever officiate at an NFL game. She’s set to take the field during the preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Diego Chargers. There’s currently a labor dispute going on with the regular referees in the NFL, so Shannon is acting as a replacement referee, despite rampant criticism based on both her qualifications and her gender.
It’s pretty sad that it takes a strike for the NFL to finally get a woman as a referee, but I don’t mean to diminish Shannon or her accomplishment in any way. Let’s hope she’ll pave the way for even more women to be directly involved with working for the NFL. Football is still a male-dominated sport both on and off the field, despite the fact that viewership among women continues to grow. Women love football; in 2011, the number of women participating in fantasy football doubled.
Plenty of people are questioning the NFL’s decision to hire Shannon. When Shannon was seen training at a clinic in Dallas last week, Bleacher Report reported that:
Some officials are not warm to the idea. Nine officials were asked to return their company-issued laptops back to the league after not wanting to train a woman to take their spot.
Shannon has worked in the Mid-Atlantic East Conference, so she’s no newbie. But it’s not only her gender that has people up in arms. Julie Hayes, writing for Yahoo’s Contributor Network, calls the choice of Shannon Eastin “a travesty,” based on the fact that she’s not experienced enough to ref for the NFL, especially compared to other high-profile female referees. Hayes writes:
Throwing a woman into an NFL game in this manner and then saying she’s making history is a joke. She didn’t earn this right. She might have one day. However, she’s not even the best female referee officiating in football right now.
I don’t know enough about referees, football or the NFL to weigh on on Shannon’s qualifications, but I know I’m wishing her luck regardless. I’m not saying she should get a free pass because she has a vagina, but I do think it’s better to support her than to tear her down. Shannon is under a tremendous amount of pressure and scrutiny right now, so hemming and hawing over her qualifications seems needlessly petty, especially when she’s already getting opposition from seasoned (sexist) referees that don’t want to train a woman.
And let’s not forget the chauvinistic, anonymous internet assholes who are criticizing Shannon based on gender alone. TotalPackers.com has already issued an apology for a supposedly funny article referring to her as a “broad.” Another guy, writing for a Nittany Lions fansite, said of Shannon’s appointment to the game: “Go ahead, call me a misogynist. I can’t wait to watch her.”
Wow. If that’s what Shannon has to deal with on the internet, I can’t imagine what she has to deal with when she’s standing out there on the football field surrounded by men, many of whom think she has no right to be there. In my opinion, comments like those above are just more evidence that we should all be rooting for women in male-dominated fields, especially ones as specifically testosterone-saturated as professional football.