By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) It got a mention on a little graphic just before tip-off. The treatment seemed more like the trivia question that pops up at the bottom of the screen once a game only to become a query on “Jeopardy!” some months down the line.
Referee Violet Palmer on Sunday became the first female game official to work an all-star game in any major American sport. Palmer has been reffing NBA games since 1997, so seeing her on the court was nothing surprising. That it was after 17 years in the league that she was allowed to work its biggest exhibition game is surprising, though. Perhaps it’s remnants of the intraprofessional discrimination she has experienced since joining the top officiating status.
“Generally it was a good ol’ boys club, and I think that’s within any sport,” she’s said. “There were a lot of referees that resented me joining the ranks.”
Not to mention the countless sexist critics in the stands and on the court she has endured.
But now Palmer is a regular ol’ part of the league fabric despite being the only female ref any sports fan sees on his or her TV. And why is that? Not just in the NBA, which had another female ref along with Palmer in 1997 but who left the league five years later, but in the NFL and the NHL and MLB?
Seeing and hearing society’s overall collective intelligence regarding breaking down “traditional” barriers of sexuality in sports the past few weeks has been reassuring. The inanity of what constitutes a “man’s man” has thankfully been eroding with increased speed. But are sports still “man’s game” in a way?
Despite what steakheads would prefer to think, the stereotype of the woman who wanders into the mancave to bring her breadwinner and his bros some nachos and bubbles out “Who’s playing in the sports game?” is also being proved false at a more rapid pace. I follow and engage with a lot of female sports fans and analysts on social media, and as Twitter has enriched the consumption of sports for me, these women have been a major part of that — to the point where the only time I’m conscious of a gender disparity is when some moron says something sexist to them. They are smarter and funnier than the vast majority of dudes that tweet bad jokes and thoughtfarts to me. @JulieDiCaro, @bhawksfanjen, @CeeAngi and @Lana are just a few that make the sports world a bit more interesting.
With the swell of women joining the conversation and adding fantastic perspective, their place on the mancave sofa is well-established. But why not then in officiating?
I’m not aware of anything about a baseball-savvy woman’s eyes that would prevent her from being equally as bad as MLB’s umpires have been in recent years. It’s not necessarily that the league is actively squashing the pursuit of a female ump — more so that there have been fewer women actually involved in the pursuit. Helping to Windex that glass ceiling, though, is the sexist vibe that exists in pro baseball.
David Price and Matt Garza just so happen to be jocks that were extra-dumb enough to broadcast their neanderthalisms publicly. There are many more players, coaches and especially fans just like them, though, who keep their misogyny confined to the ballpark.
Ditto the field and the rink, even though I can’t think of a logical reason a woman couldn’t perform a football or hockey referee’s duties. Females in “guy sports” — whether playing or just being a fan — are still treated as a novelty, mostly because there are a lot of insecure manly men out there that fear smart, independent women (see: “feminazis”) and who would prefer segregation for the sake of comfortability. The gender gap has to exist for some people because some people need to know their place and old school and tradition and other hollow expressions ignorant adults raised them on. Having breasts disqualifies some from having a thought on a game or blowing a whistle, unless those breasts rest atop a beer gut.
And so otherwise competent women are boxed out from sports talk and, thus, sports officiating, either because they feel threatened or that it just might not be worth the effort to deal with the manly men with their moms’ names tattooed on themselves. “How is a manager supposed to argue a call with a chick ump?” becomes this issue’s “What about when the gay guy goes in the locker room shower?” I wish that weren’t so. I wish that what (I hope) is gradually becoming a vocal minority of chauvinists wasn’t setting the deaf tone.
As we’re opening our eyes more and more to superficial aspects that shouldn’t prevent a person from being part of the games we love, there should be an opportunity for other Violet Palmers. The environment should not just be conducive to trivia at the screen’s bottom just because some people are compelled to be trivial.