Shannon Eastin and 5 Other Female Referees Who Made History
At an NFL preseason game on Thursday night, history will be made: A woman will be part of an NFL officiating crew for the first time. Shannon Eastin, previously a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is one of the replacement refs the league is using this summer because the usual officiating crews are locked out in a contract dispute.
While Eastin isn’t the first female referee ever, she is one of the few. Here’s a look back at how some other female referees have fared in their respective sports:
“Violet Palmer has made it in a man’s game, and she’s not going anywhere,” said Ben Bolch in the Los Angeles Times this spring. Not only is Palmer the NBA’s only curent female ref, she’s among the league’s best. She’s a veteran in the playoffs by now, having started with the league in 1997 as the league’s first woman.
Palmer actually entered alongside another female ref, Dee Kantner, but Kantner got canned in 2002 because of poor performance. Back when Palmer first joined the league, Dennis Rodman joked that he would pat Palmer and Kantner on their rear ends as a show of approval. How far we’ve come since.
In 2007, Thomas became the first female official ever to work a major college football game. To pay her bills, Thomas also serves as a pharmaceutical saleswoman, and worked Mississippi high school games at night where she made her name. “I’m not doing this for recognition or wanting to break a glass ceiling or whatever,” Thomas said in 2009. She said that people started taking her seriously once they realized how well she knew the game.
Not only is Seitz working the London Olympics, she earned the honor of opening the Games last month when she and her whistle began the first game between Great Britain and New Zealand. Seitz has been around the circuit, doing college and semipro games and even Major Soccer League matches in her past. But she can’t make a living off reffing alone — she also works at a San Francisco-based ad agency.
To make it to the Olympic level, Seitz had to pass a series of athletic tests that showed her to be in an elite class. She’s always enjoyed soccer, but she idolized the refs in the way most kids look at the players. From a young age, she was hooked.
Winslow is a referee that others wouldn’t necessarily want to emulate. Since 2009, when she became the first female MMA referee to oversee a UFC fight, Winslow has been the subject of controversy. She has learned to fend off her critics with a positive attitude and a love for fighting. She doesn’t foresee a time when women will spar in the ring as fighters, but she’s happy that her position allows her to be close to the action. Something tells us that Winslow could handle herself pretty well if she was ever challenged.
When Badger became the first woman to referee in the Australian National Rugby League Toyota Cup earlier this year, she had some support in her corner: Her husband, Gavin, is a referee himself. To keep her spot and earn respect from her peers, Badger has to wake up early and hit the gym. Yet not everyone is so welcoming to a woman. “I’ve copped it hard. One guy even said, ‘That’s why women shouldn’t be allowed to referee,’” she revealed. Right now she’s focused on the junior level, but it’s anyone’s guess before Badger will be promoted to take on some of the sport’s toughest competitors. Badger is ready for it.