On Tuesday, the National Basketball Association named Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner as two of five additional full-time referees hired for the upcoming basketball season, which is scheduled to open this Friday. The NBA decision, lauded as a groundbreaking move by sports enthusiasts and women’s rights activists, marks the first time in U.S. pro sports that women officials will referee regular season games in an all-male league.
NBA vice president of basketball operations Rod Thorn stated that he was aware of the positive social significance of the decision, but stressed that gender had not been a factor; Palmer and Kantner had been chosen for their exceptional skill level. “In my opinion, they are among the best referees I can get.”
Kantner played basketball while attending the University of Pittsburgh on a field hockey scholarship. Since graduating in 1982, Kantner has worked as a NCAA and international referee for more than a decade and has worked the last three NCAA women’s championship games.
Palmer captained the basketball team at Cal Poly Pomona and began refereeing playground recreation games and high school games after her graduation in 1986. She later moved on to college basketball, where she has been officiating for eight years, along with working two NCAA women’s semifinals and the past two NCAA women’s championships.
Out of the four major U.S. sports leagues, the NBA is the first and only league to employ female referees. The National Hockey, Major league Baseball, and National Football Leagues have never hired female referees. Major League Soccer has used women as officials occasionally, but not on a full-basis. In this context, the NBA’s long overdue decision to hire female referees is truly a landmark.