Sometimes longevity under difficult circumstances deserves praise. Palmer became one of two women to infiltrate the all-male referee ranks of the NBA in 1997. Her fellow groundbreaking female referee left after five years, leaving Palmer to hold it down on her own for the last several years.
“I didn’t just kick the door — I knocked it down,” Palmer told espnW.
Palmer’s skill has also earned her the distinction of being the first woman to serve as a referee during the playoffs of any major American sport.
The climb upward hasn’t been easy.
Palmer spent nine years refereeing high school and women’s college games, including two NCAA Final Fours and the championships. The NBA took notice and recruited Palmer.
“The NBA was never my goal, because I thought it was unattainable. I was a college referee. I was the No. 3 referee in the world for women’s basketball. I had everything. The Final Four. Big TV games — all the limelight I wanted. But my personality is if you give me a challenge, I’m going to take it. In the back of my mind, I said, It doesn’t cost me anything. I can just try it. If nothing happens, the training will be good.”
But things were difficult at first.
“Generally it was a good ‘ole boys club, and I think that’s within any sport. There were a lot of referees that resented me joining the ranks,” Palmer told PBS.
But looking back at her life, it wasn’t hard to predict that Palmer would be a trailblazer. If she wasn’t challenging her brother in basketball, she was busy being the only girl on her Little League team.
At first, players didn’t know how to deal with her, said Palmer, and the fans and the critics were worse.
“‘You’re not going to make it.’ ‘Why are you here? Go back to WNBA.’ ‘Players and coaches are not going to accept you.’ ‘Your guys that you work with, they’re not going to accept you,'” Palmer said about her critics.
And the rookies sometimes didn’t know how to act, Palmer told CNN.
“Every now and then, I might have a little young fella come out, and I say, Oh wait, young fella, I’ve got a lot more years of service than you. Check yourself,’ ” said Palmer.
But then the players began to see that she was just like any of the other referees. Some of the players first looked at her as a Mother figure and then just began to realize she was a cool person.
“I think a woman should be able to do any job that she qualifies for,” Palmer told Scholastic. “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]?”
Now Palmer’s boldness has left that door she kicked open ajar for other women.
“Two more women have already been working two or three NBA games a month this season for on-the-job training that will go through January,” Palmer said. “And I’m not sure anyone even noticed much, which is great.”