Female official Shannon Eastin breaks NFL gender barrier

SAN DIEGO -- Shannon Eastin broke the NFL's on-field gender barrier Thursday night, serving as the line judge for a seven-person crew working a preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers.

Wearing No. 27 on the back of her official's uniform, Eastin was dwarfed by the players as she lined up in front of San Diego's sideline and had a camera following nearly every move before the game.

The 42-year-old from Tempe, Ariz., seemed at ease in the spotlight, though, and had at least two players shake her hand before the opening kickoff.

Though she wasn't involved in many calls until late, Eastin stayed steady among the giants and the national spotlight, earning her stripes by receiving the ultimate officials' compliment: It was almost as if she wasn't there.

It's no surprise.

She's a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, college football's second-highest level, and a 16-year veteran of officiating. Eastin got her NFL shot as a replacement official, among a group taking the place of the regular refs, who are locked out.

And now, she'll have a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Well, at least her cap will; the one she wore Thursday night is headed to Canton.

Eastin spent most of the first half straddling the line markers and keeping track of the time, without much action on her side of the field.

Things picked up in the second half, when she had to break up a small skirmish between players on a punt and whipped her flag to the middle of the field for a holding call late in the third quarter.

Eastin heard a few boos early in the fourth quarter from the hometown fans for a pass interference call on San Diego's Corey Lynch -- a call she appeared to get right -- and later signaled touchdown when Green Bay's Marc Tyler dived in from 1 yard out.

Eastin joins a small group of women to crack the officiating ranks at the highest levels of sports.

Violet Palmer, one of Eastin's inspirations, began officiating NBA games in 1997 and is still in the league.

Pam Postema umpired major league spring training games in 1989 and, thanks to a push by commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, made it up to Triple-A for six seasons. She was fired a few months after Giamatti's death, filed a sex discrimination suit against baseball and settled out of court 5 1/2 years later.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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