Shannon Eastin is making history this week as the first woman to referee a National Football League game and she acknowledges that she is a bit of a pioneer.
"I would say probably most of the way, to some degree, yes. Even in my previous experience in judo, I did a lot of things that were first there," Eastin said in a news conference Tuesday.
Eastin, 42, will serve as the line judge in Thursday's pre-season game between the San Diego Chargers and the Green Bay Packers.
"I'm excited. Every step is hope that I can continue to show it really doesn't matter male or female, as long as you work hard," Eastin said.
She is getting her chance in part because the league's regular officials are locked out in a labor dispute. It's not clear whether she would be able to stick in the NFL once a new deal is signed.
"I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing and work with the NFL as long as they need me. Should that change, pursue going back to college or you never know," she said.
Eastin is no rookie to the game. She enters her 17th season as a football official. She spent the last four seasons refereeing college football in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), which fields 13 teams competing in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division 1-AA.
"For me this is my dream coming true. I'm honored the NFL has chosen to place me in this position. I feel blessed and excited. I'm a little nervous in anticipation," Easton said.
This isn't the first time Easton has been in the spotlight. She is a world-class judo athlete, earning six national judo championships. At age 11, she was the youngest judo athlete to ever be accepted to train at the United States Olympic Training Center.
She feels her greatest challenge this week will be the rule differences of the NFL game. Easton said she's been spending a lot of time on the rules in terms of positioning, and fortunately the mechanics are quite similar.
There has always been pressure on Eastin in this profession, but she plans to take negative criticism or potential backlash from an unpopular call in stride.
"Knowing that I'm a female in a man's world, I've always put the most pressure on myself. Pretty much everything I do is going to be magnified. I know what I signed up for," Eastin explained. "I have to be bigger, stronger, know that I understand the rules. I have to do things even better than the men that are working. And I'm ok with that."
To keep herself focused, Eastin tends to stick with the people who want to see her succeed rather than focus on those who don't want to see her succeed, or think that she can't simply because she's a woman. Standing at only 5-foot-5, she has some pretty big shoes to fill in this male-dominated sport, but nonetheless, Eastin believes she's ready.
"I believe that I'm ready. I'm a realistic type person. I know what' s realistic for me. It's not realistic for me to play in the NFL, but it is realistic for me to officiate," Eastin said. "I've done a lot to make myself ready for this opportunity. I'm going in with my eyes wide open and I'm going to continue to work hard."
Despite all the publicity she's receiving for her major accomplishment as the first female NFL referee, she remains humble about the entire situation.
"I can't believe it. I get a little teary-eyed. I just want to do a good job. I just want to be unnoticed out there, even though I know everyone's watching," Eastin said.
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