NBA’s Only Female Referee Overcomes Sometimes Brutal Sexism to Prove Detractors Wrong

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By Daphne R

Violet Palmer, the NBA’s only female referee sat down for a candid interview with CNN concerning her experience officiating in the all-male basketball league. Since being hired in 1997, she’s experienced rampant sexism on the court.

She’s often taunted by fans saying, ‘Why are you here? Go back to the WNBA’ and ‘You’re not going to make it.’ Or, ‘Players and coaches are not going to accept you.’ And, some even criticize her appearance. But after making it through 17 seasons officiating, Palmer accepts the not so kind insults being hurled at and doesn’t take it personal while she’s doing her job.

When it comes to the players themselves, she says overall they’re respectful. She recalls some of them will even greet her with a kiss on the check in pre-game meetings and later that same player may be given a technical foul by her in the game.

No doubt her hard work and extensive resume prior to coming to NBA have aided her in proving her detractors wrong. Prior to the NBA, Palmer officiated high school and college games for nine years, including five NCAA Final Fours and two NCAA championship games. When the NBA invited her in for a tryout she jumped at the chance.

“You give me a shot … you know how you crack the door? I just kicked it right open,” Palmer said.

She’s no stranger to being the only female in sports. As a child, she was the only female on a Little League baseball team.

“I want to go out and play with my brother and play baseball in the street and just do it all,” she recalls.

In junior high and high school, she turned her attention to basketball, playing well enough to earn a full scholarship to California Polytechnic State University where she won two NCAA Women’s Championships.

Now, she’s the only female officiating in the NBA among 62 of the best officials. She recalls her first game she officiated was nerve wracking, but it didn’t take her long to overcome it.

“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,” she said.

Palmer is often on the road about 22 days out the month during the NBA season, but she manages to stay in shape. She’s looking forward to the possibility that other female referees may be joining the ranks soon. She says there are two women in training programs now and she calls them awesome. Undoubtedly, those trainees most  likely find her awesome too for paving the way and opening the dvioletpalmeroor for them.



Daphne R is an experienced marketing and communications professional that provides social commentary, self-help, tips, and reports news of events that matter to African Americans.