The hiring of the first women to officiate regular-season professional basketball games made history Tuesday, but it brought this reaction from Donnie Walsh, general manager of the Indiana Pacers: "We had them in one exhibition game, and I don't see any difference in the female and male referees." And that may well explain why Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner will succeed.
Hired by the National Basketball Association for the season that begins Friday, Palmer and Kantner will be on the basketball court as referees, not women. Both have extensive experience in the women's professional league and worked in the NBA during the summer and in the exhibition season last year and this year. NBA official Rod Thorn said the women showed good judgment and were tough enough to make the calls as they saw them in the face of screaming coaches and screaming crowds. "We don't have to make exceptions for them," he said.
Nor should exceptions be made. But even though they are capable, Palmer and Kantner had to wait for the NBA to open the door. They were lucky to be in basketball because their wait was shorter than it would have been in other professional sports. NBA Commissioner David Stern and his league are known to have the best record of the professional sports in terms of integrating women and minorities.
The announcement of the first women refs met with general approval from players and managers: If Palmer and Kantner can do the job, their gender doesn't matter. Dennis Rodman, general outrage expert and known referee baiter, had some specific concerns, however. The women refs better be prepared for pats on the rear now and then, just like the men refs get from players, he said. What a weird quirk that in basketball, being treated like a man means a pat on the butt.
Professional basketball has set an example other male-dominated sports should scramble to follow. As it is, the NBA is up by two.