The First Female NBA Referee A Trailblazer For Other Women In Sport


CNN’s Morning show ‘New Day’ recently gave a special report on the NBA’s first female referee and we jumped all over this! Her name is Violet Palmer and she has been officiating men’s basketball games for 17 season! Whoa, how does the whole country or at least the entire basketball profession not already know about her?

The Compton, California native grew up playing basketball, and won many championships as a young women at California Polytech State University where she studied under a basketball scholarship. It seems the sport was in her blood from an early, age, and she had one goal: to make it to the top.

“I want to go out and play with my brother and play baseball in the street and just do it all,” she told CNN’s Michaela Pereira.

The NBA took notice of her early in her refereeing career. Violet started out officiating high school and college-level basketball games, as well as five NCAA Final Fours and two NCAA Championship games. Then the NBA began to take notice.

She was asked to try out for a position in the NBA (that’s right, not just the WNBA) in 1997, and has not looked back since. She was one of two female recruits that year. What a powerhouse this woman must be. Violet talks about the nerves she had before stepping onto the men’s court for the first time, but once she started doing what she was hired to do, she found her footing.


“I was scared out of my wits. It was so much going on, so much excitement. But for me, as soon as I walked out on that floor and we tossed the ball, now it was time to go to work.”

And of course, being the only woman in one of the most popular sports for men in the USA, she definitely came up against some negativity, but didn’t allow it to stop or slow her down. She knew this position was important and was going to open up many doors for other women after her.

“Every negative thing you can think of, they’ve thrown it at me.”

” ‘You’re not going to make it.’ ‘Why are you here? Go back to WNBA.’ ‘Players and coaches are not going to accept you.’ ‘Your guys that you work with, they’re not going to accept you.’ ”

But it seems not only did they accept her, but she quickly rose to the top and proved it has nothing to do with gender.

“I think guys respect hard work.” This is clearly evident in not just basketball but also the NFL as they also look to start hiring female referees as soon as 2014.

As for being a trailblazer, as CNN dubbed her, she knows how this will affect other women in the sport, and the public’s perception of having a female referee in the NBA.

“We have two women right now that are in our training program, and they are awesome.”

She hopes her story will inspire more women to join her in the sport. She is a big believer in taking advantage of an opportunity and using it as an excuse to show people she is the best.


“The bar is really high…”You give me a shot … you know how you crack the door? I just kicked it right open.”

Today she is joined by more female referees: Lauren Holtkamp and Brenda Pantoja. Dee Kanter is a former female referee who started in 1997 after Palmer. Let’s hope we start hearing about more women added to the league as well as more media coverage of their achievements.

“I think for all women, we can do anything we want; we just have to have the opportunity to now show that we can do the job.”

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