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Line judge Shannon Eastin makes history in NFL
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote believes it is good for the game to have female officials, even though he worries about her safety working alongside some of the world’s biggest, strongest and fastest athletes.
“Women are more honest and fair than men and they know how to catch a man cheating,” Foote said. “I hope she’s just a line judge. Don’t want her to get hurt.”
Eastin, who is originally from Worcester, Mass., was a multiple national judo champion as a child and started officiating high school games before moving up to colleges. She owns a company called SE Sports Officiating, which trains officials in football and basketball.
“I’ll be working even harder, to show I am capable and I am where I should be,” Eastin has said.
She is joining a small group of women to break into officiating ranks at the highest levels of sports.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “The NBA did it.”
Violet Palmer, one of Eastin’s inspirations, started officiating NBA games in 1997 and is still in the league. Bernice Gera became the first woman to work in baseball’s minor leagues in 1972 as an umpire in a New York-Penn League game. Pam Postema umpired major league spring training games in 1989 and Triple-A baseball for six seasons.
The locked-out NFL Referees Association has said Eastin shouldn’t be allowed to work league games because she has been in the World Series of Poker. If Eastin is hired permanently, the NFL’s gambling policy would bar her from participating in such events.
Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, the first woman to play and coach against men in professional basketball, is glad the NFL’s labor problems with its regular officials opened a door for Eastin.
“She doesn’t have to hit anybody, she just has to know the rules,” Lieberman said. “She won’t be defined by her gender if she does her job. And while this is not normal for the rest of the world to see, this is very normal for her because she works as an official for a living.”
Kathy Babiak, co-director of SHARP, a partnership between the Women’s Sports Foundation and the University of Michigan, said Eastin’s accomplishment is encouraging.
“It shows the strides women and girls in sports have been making since Title IX was passed 40 years ago,” Babiak said. “Before Title IX, these kinds of opportunities for women and girls were not even imaginable. It shows that women and girls have a desire, interest and ability to work in sports at all levels _ even men’s professional sports.
“Some girl will be watching Sunday and say, `Hey, I want to do the same thing!’”
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