LAT Columnist Questions NFL Female Referee Sideshow

Away from the glorious glare of the London Summer Olympics, one of this week’s other big sports stories is the scheduled appearance on the San Diego Chargers field tomorrow night of the first-ever female NFL game referee. Her name is Shannon Eastin and such has been the media interest that a conference call was held with reporters on Tuesday.

Sam Farmer, NFL beat writer for the LA Times, leads off his take with a great first sentence – ‘Shannon Eastin is an accidental pioneer.’ – and follows with solid arguments. He thinks it was a mistake, with regular officials locked out since June because of a labor dispute, for the league to thrust her into the interim feminist spotlight:

The mystery: Why would the NFL want to create a sideshow in the middle of this labor mess instead of waiting to do it the right way? There is no need to draw additional attention to the stand-ins, most of whom are lacking big-time football experience…

Admirable and progressive as it may be for the NFL to promote a woman to the role, the situation feels awkward and rushed because Eastin — whose experience is limited to high school and small-college officiating — was not on the short list of the top female candidates before the lockout.

Indeed, Farmer notes that one of the more logical candidates for the historic line judge assignment during Thursday’s Chargers-Packers exhibition match, Sarah Thomas, refused to cross the lockout line. Perhaps Eastin should have done the same.