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NBA Referee Violet Palmer

Violet Palmer believes strongly in equal opportunities for men and women

By Maya Williams | March 15 , 2010
Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson argues a call with NBA official Violet Palmer during third quarter NBA action against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Philadelphia, April 8, 2005. (Photo Credit: Tim Shaffer/Reuters)
Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson argues a call with NBA official Violet Palmer during third quarter NBA action against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Philadelphia, April 8, 2005. (Photo Credit: Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

Violet Palmer believes strongly in equal opportunities for men and women.

"I think a woman should be able to do any job that she qualifies for," said the first female referee in professional basketball. "If she can go out and be the best at it like any man, why shouldn't she have the opportunity to do whatever sport or career [she wants]?"

In 1997, Palmer not only became the first woman to officiate a National Basketball Association (NBA) game, but also the first woman to officiate any major men's professional sport. She lives in Los Angeles, California, and referees as many as 70 NBA regular-season games every a year. In 2006, she became the first woman to referee an NBA playoff game.

Running Down a Dream

Throughout her childhood, Violet was highly inspired, motivated, and encouraged by her parents. If it were not for them, she says, she might not be where she is today.

"They were both so hard working and into the family value," Palmer says. "[They] pretty much told [my brother, sisters, and me] that we could accomplish anything we wanted."

After that, it was only a matter of chasing her dream to make NBA history.

"You kind of have to start at the bottom and earn your stripes," she said. "Start at high school, work your way up, get into the college ranks, and then you can referee in the NBA."

Palmer had to mentally prepare for the first professional game she officiated.

"I knew that I had worked really hard and earned the opportunity, but I was still scared," she said. "But I was confident enough to know that, with my training, I could do it!"

Knowing that she could do it was just the beginning. She had to work for respect on the court, especially from the players.

"[Respect] was one of those things that I had to really kind of earn because [people] were not sure with being a female, and being on the court, and walking with men, they didn't know if they could yell at me," she said. "They didn't know if they could shake my hand, [or] touch me."

Palmer loves the game of basketball, but doesn't play anymore herself. If she were to get hurt, she wouldn't be able to work as a referee, she said.

When she is not officiating, Palmer likes to golf, hang out with her two dogs, be with her family, and see the world.

"I'm a low-key kind of girl," she stated matter-of-factly.  

After almost 13 years of officiating, Palmer says the hardest part of her job is the travel.

"Refereeing the games [is] the easy part," she said. "Being on the road all the time can get a little lonely."


She has some special advice to women everywhere, especially young girls still deciding on a career.

"Don't take no for an answer," she said. "Trust your instincts, trust yourself, and just work hard. Eventually that'll get you through the door."

CELEBRATE WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH

For more on the achievements and contributions of women in the United States, check out the Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Women's History Month Special Report.

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