Tomorrow night, a woman will officiate an NFL game for the first time ever. Granted, the game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Diego Chargers is just a preseason game, but still: This should be a huge deal, right? Finally: a woman will wear the zebra stripes, run up and down the field with the players, and be responsible for making crucial calls. What a huge step for women everywhere. What a huge step for equality.
Or is it?
Shannon Eastin, the woman scheduled to make history tomorrow, is not actually a member of the National Football League Referees Association. In fact, the only reason Eastin is scheduled to referee is because the NFLRA has been locked out since June due to a collective-bargaining dispute (much like what happened with the NFL players last year). Therefore, Shannon Eastin stepped in as a replacement ref, or as some people like to call it: a scab.
The problems with using replacement referees in the NFL are enormous. It can take a new official one to two years of refereeing with a veteran crew before he fully catches on to all of the rules. The replacement refs, however, will be taking to the field with only a month or two of training. Making a bad call, or not calling something at all out of fear of getting it wrong, doesn’t just have a negative impact on the outcome of a game, however; it can also greatly affect player safety.
And now, more than ever, when the league is trying to protect players due to the NFL’s concussion crisis, it appears that these replacement refs simply don’t have the qualifications to recognize when a player on the field may have a concussion or injury, but won’t admit it because he wants to stay in the game.
In addition, these replacement refs simply don’t have the experience necessary to successfully referee a game. Shannon Eastin’s qualifications include refereeing small college (that almost no one’s ever heard of) and high school games. At no point in time has she (or any of the other replacement referees) trained for or faced anything like the speed of an NFL game. This was proven ten-fold in the replacement refs' first game on Sunday, during which they blew so many calls that the players began openly mocking the officials, who in turn began arguing amongst themselves.
In short, having replacement referees officiating in the NFL will undoubtedly compromise the integrity of the game.
Let me be clear: I am all for female referees in the NFL. I see no reason why a woman who receives the proper training cannot do that job as well as, if not better, than a man. Women (and perhaps I’m a bit biased since I am one) tend to be more level headed. They pay better attention to detail. And they don’t lean towards knee-jerk reactions the way men can. All of those attributes would serve a woman referee very well. Perhaps even make her one of the best.
Unfortunately, Shannon Eastin doesn’t have the proper training or experience. In fact, she wasn’t even at the top of the NFL's short list of female candidates prior to the lockout. Those women? The ones who are far more qualified for the job? They weren’t willing to cross the line and work during the lockout just to make history.
The news can focus all they want on Shannon Eastin and how she’s a pioneer for women everywhere, but the women who earned my respect are the ones who refused to be scabs, no matter what the reward. The women who were actually first in line for the honor of breaking gender barriers, but decided it was more important to respect the NFL referees who desperately want to work, but also want fair pair and benefits.
So yes, Shannon Eastin will make history tomorrow night when she becomes the first female to ref an NFL game. She’s bound to make mistakes (as are all of the replacement refs). And when it happens, I truly hope that people blame her inexperience, not her gender.
I hope she has a successful game, after all, regardless of the ugly details, because she is making history and breaking boundaries. However, when I turn my TV on to watch the meaningless exhibition game, I won't be thinking about Eastin. Rather, I'll be swelling with pride for the female referees not on the field; the ones who were more qualified for the job, but passed up a chance at making history because of something more important: their integrity.
Football season is right around the corner. Follow @daisy on Twitter for all of her thoughts on that and countless amounts of humblebrags.