Thursday night was the first time in NFL history a woman referee took the field. Shannon Eastin officiated the preseason game between the Green Bay Packers vs. San Diego Chargers. She joins just a handful of women who have broken into the officiating ranks of professional sports. According to ESPN, Violet Palmer referees for the NBA and Bernice Gera was an umpire in baseball’s minor leagues.
Eastin, who has 16 years of officiating experience and referees in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision, was called on as a replacement. NFL referees are currently in a lockout over a collective bargaining agreement. If not for the lockout, Sarah Thomas, a Division I referee, might have eventually become the woman who made history. Thomas has been selected by the league as a finalist to become an NFL official.
Early reports of Eastin’s performance as a line judge were positive; a relief following the scrutiny she faced heading into the game. Eastin’s history-making game felt more like scaling the glass cliff than shattering the glass ceiling. The glass cliff, according to researchers at the University of Exeter “describes the phenomenon whereby individuals belonging to particular groups are more likely to be found in leadership positions that are associated with a greater risk of failure and criticism.” Yahoo, for example, is considered to be one of those precipices.
Prior to the game, ESPN’s Jane McManus wrote about Eastin, “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.” That’s because, as Christine Settimi wrote in Forbes, “The implication is that it took a lockout for a woman to put a crack in the glass ceiling of NFL officiating, and she did so only as a temporary labor scab until the male officials return.”
And in the vein of “I’m all in favor of women officials, just not this one,” Mike Pereira, former Vice President of Officiating for the NFL, wrote at Fox Sports, “It is an absolute shame that Eastin will be identified as the first female official to work an NFL game. If I were her, I would step aside and leave this huge milestone to Thomas, who truly deserves to be the trailblazer.”
But it’s not Eastin who delayed Thomas’ ascension into the league. Eastin, who according to McManus, “always dreamed of working at least one (game), ever since growing up watching the game with her dad,” seized an opportunity. Thomas has been on the NFL’s radar as far back as 2006. And she’s not the only woman among the ranks. So what has the league been waiting for?
We couldn’t have glass cliffs without glass ceilings. It’s a slippery slope ladies.