Violet Palmer: Changing the face of the NBA

Violet Palmer: Changing the face of the NBA

By Marcy Driehaus


Over time, women have made a ferocious effort to eradicate the stigma that the world of sports is exclusively a “boys club”. One of these women happens to be Violet Palmer, the first female NBA referee.


Violet Palmer was born to James and Gussie Palmer on July 20, 1964, in Compton, California. Though Compton was notorious for its crime, excessive gang activity, and crippling poverty, Palmer’s childhood was happy and thriving due to her unwavering family support system. Palmer’s love for sports slowly started to blossom at the tender age of 5. By spending countless hours shooting baskets in the hoop in her backyard with her brothers, Palmer’s interest in basketball in particular was triggered. Being in a family full of athletes, sports were a prominent and consistent force in Palmer’s youth, thus foretelling her future involvement with the NBA.


After graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a degree in recreation administration and a minor in public administration in 1987, Palmer continued to be actively involved with basketball. Not only did she coach high school basketball for a short period of time, but she also indulged in referring recreation leagues, college games, and eventually in 1994, the WNBA. 3 years after getting her start in the WNBA on October 31, Violet Palmer became the first woman ever to ref an NBA basketball game.  After that first game, Palmer was then catapulted full force into a hectic and busy career,   officiating over 70 games per season and spending about a month just on the road.


Though Palmer was exceptionally good at what she did, that didn’t pardon her from the heaps of ridicule that were hurled in her direction from her male speculators. In response to her new position, Charles Barkley was quoted saying, “This is a man’s game. It should stay that way.” In addition to the blatant negative reaction to Palmer, she was also plagued with a multitude of sexual harassment from both players and coaches. On one occasion, a player tried to coax her into going on a date with him if she promised to change the foul that was called against him. Though the harassment and ridicule was intense at first, as Palmer began to establish herself as a force to be reckoned with who is good at what she does, she slowly began to gain the respect and admiration of not only her coworkers, but the players and coaches alike.


Now single and living in Los Angeles, Violet Palmer continues to take charge on the basketball courts. Having accumulated an abundance of accolades including the Amateur Athletic Foundation, “Making the Call” honoree in 2000, and Atlanta Tipoff Club, Naismith College Official of the Year in 1999, Palmer has proved herself to be a great attribute to the NBA. Violet Palmer is living proof that if you decide to not conform to stereotypes and instead rise above them, you can conquer anything. She said, “My mother couldn’t make me cook … or play with the Barbies – I didn’t want to do it.” And she didn’t do it. Instead, she grew up to work in a field where the fate of a grown man’s career lay in her hands. Talk about empowerment!

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