It has been 16 years since Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner broke through the proverbial glass ceiling and became the first female referrees in the NBA. It seems more of a footnote now. While Kantner was let go for "poor performance" in 2002, Palmer has grown into one of the more veteran and respected referees in the league.
There hardly is ever a mention of her status as the lone famale in her profession at the NBA level.
On this final day of Black History Month 2013, some notice should be given to everything she has accomplished just by being in and continuing to officiate games in the NBA. As she told Fran Blinebury of NBA.com, she has come to realize the impact she has had in the league now:
Back in those early days, I never thought of myself as any kind of pioneer or a barrier breaker. I was just getting a chance in a game that I love and was too concerned with doing all of the things right to earn that position.
But as the years have gone by and I’ve been asked to speak at a lot of career days and the subject comes up each year with Black History Month, I have come to understand the significance. I’m proud of having done something that nobody else has done and I’m most hopeful about having opened the doors for other young women in the future.
Now it is difficult to distinguish Palmer from her colleagues. Her presence has become commonplace in big games.
She draws the same praise as a referee that you would expect for any other referee from coaches and veterans alike. At games, she draw the same ire you would expect any referee to receive from the fans.
Palmer has gained respect from everyone and the idea of a woman officiating a men's basketball game is not a foreign idea. There are a few female officials in the D-League that the NBA is seeking to develop and two even officiated NBA games earlier this year. All with little fanfare.
As this month closes, one where we try to recognize the steps minorities (and particularly African Americans) have taken within our society, it is clear Palmer has blazed the trail for her profession. And not only within her sport. College football has added a few female officials to its rolls and women are finding jobs in basketball where they may not have previously found them 16 years ago.
Palmer has not officiated much in the Playoffs yet (just nine games since 2006, according to Basketball-Reference). But that is clearly the next frontier for her in her professional development.
Hopefully, we will not even notice it is her while she is accomplishing that feat.
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