Standing her ground
As the first and only female referee in the NBA, 13-year veteran Violet Palmer is a true trailblazer. In the first installment of a two-part series Monday, Palmer talked to espnW contributor Adena Andrews about her life as a referee and how the players treat her. Today, Palmer discusses family life and some of the high-profile incidents when she has been on the floor.
AA: You travel about 18-20 days out of the month. How does that affect your family life?
VP: For six months you're just not around. I left Christmas day, I left Thanksgiving. Somebody's always having a graduation or a birthday and you are just not around. During the offseason, that's when I try to make up for it. I try to make all my nieces' and nephews' events.
AA: That doesn't leave much time to start a family, does it?
VP: A child isn't in my plans right now. I'm being selfish to a point. I'm such a workaholic and I love what I do. I'm one of those people. Plus, I have tons of nieces and nephews and I'm good with them.
But I honestly believe that if I wanted to have a baby the NBA would give me maternity leave and I would just be off. They would just treat it like an injury.
AA: What about being a black woman, does that come into play in your job?
VP: I didn't think so. But Ric Bucher once told me that a lot of players look at me like they would that single mother or strong grandmother that raised them. The mother that worked every day and took care of them. In that aspect it's been a very helpful thing for me. It doesn't matter how you make it easier for yourself. It's a good tool to have.
I don't cut corners. I'm not looking for any favors. If me having that demeanor stops them from doing what they are going do, fine by me.
AA: Straying from the topic of your family life, what do you think of the new "respect of the game" rule?
VP: The rule really isn't new. It's just changed over the years. If a player disrespects me, my partner or the game, he should be assessed a technical foul. It's not that big of a deal. When I first got into the game this is what they told us, then they took the cuffs off a bit and now they put them back on.
AA: You were on the floor for the Knicks-Nuggets brawl in 2006 when 10 players were ejected. What goes through your mind when something like that happens?
VP: When that happened I was standing in the backcourt thinking, my officiating career is over. You feel like the reason this is happening is because you didn't do something right. It's like, "What did I miss? What did I do to let this game get out of control?" After looking at the tape you realize you didn't do anything wrong.
AA: Did you not get in the middle of the fight because you felt as a female you were at a disadvantage physically and couldn't break it up?
VP: Honest to God I wasn't fearful, because I'm like, I can't do anything. As a ref you can really only stop the fight before they start swinging. Once they start swinging, you put yourself in danger. Also, I was so far from the action; I just thought as a ref my career was over.
AA: There have been a number of marquee sexual harassment cases in sports in recent years. How should a woman coming into sports prepare herself for sexual misconduct that might come her way at work?
VP: You have to stand your ground, but you can't jump on everything. I carry the banner as a woman. But I can't carry the banner all the day. But this sexual thing shouldn't be tolerated. If it happens on my level, I'm not allowing it. If I let men be disrespectful to me that would be no good for the 25 women referees in the D-League. Those women would get the same treatment and it would keep trickling down.
AA: Any advice for women going into the man's world of sports?
VP: First, I don't think it's a man's world although they keep saying that. When I first came in there were no female commentators and now every single sport except baseball and hockey has female commentators. It's phenomenal. If I can do the job, you can't deny me. That's the great thing. I'm normal now; I'm not just looked upon as, "Oh, they just gave her a shot." You're not doing me any favors if I can do the job.