Violet Palmer, the NBA’s lone female referee, spoke with CNN about her experience in the league.
Among other things, Palmer noted the rampant sexism she faced after being hired in 1997.
“‘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.’ ” she said. They also used to heavily criticize her appearance.
“I used to wear my hair long, and they’d go, ‘Oh, your ponytail is too tight,’ or ‘You need glasses.’ I still know that being on the court when I’m doing my job, it’s not personal.”
But 17 seasons later, she’s still standing, and proving her detractors wrong. Palmer attributes it to her hard work ethic, complemented by an already extensive resume.
Before joining the league, the Compton native spent nine years officiating high-school and college games. They included five NCAA Final Fours and two NCAA championship games.
When they NBA invited her for a tryout, she took the ball and ran with it.
“You give me a shot … you know how you crack the door? I just kicked it right open,” she said. Palmer was one of only two female referee hopefuls at the time.
Her love for sports extends to her childhood; she was the only female member of her 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.”
Eventually, Palmer turned her attention to basketball. She played for her school’s teams in junior high, high school and college. Her talents earned her a full scholarship to California Polytechnic State University. There, she won two NCAA Women’s Championships.
Today, Palmer remains the only woman referee among 62 of the best in the world. Speaking about officiating her first NBA game, she says it was initially nerve wracking, but quickly overcame that.
“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 shared.
Given the NBA’s constant traveling, Palmer makes sure to remain mentally and physically in shape, often on the road 22 days per month.
And if recent events are any indicators, she may be getting company soon.
“The bar is really high, but I can honestly say we have two women right now that are in our training program, and they are awesome.”
Watch Palmer discuss how NBA players show their respect for her below: