NBA gets women referees Basketball milestone: Another incremental step in changing attitudes toward gender.

November 02, 1997

THE HIRING of two qualified women as National Basketball Association referees can't be shrugged off as something bound to happen. Other pro sports could have worked toward this goal, but haven't. Dee Kantner and Violet Palmer have officiated at women's college and women's professional games as well as NBA summer league games. Last year, they became the first women to referee NBA pre-season games. They are prepared.

Physical differences between men and women may prevent them from fully competing against each other in the most popular professional sports -- football, baseball and basketball. But no such case can be made for denying women a chance to referee those contests.

All they need is highly detailed knowledge of the rules, the stamina to run with the athletes up and down the court and the courage to stand by their decisions -- even when the likes of rainbow-haired Dennis Rodman tries to stare them down. Ms. Palmer and Ms. Kantner will be tested. But learning how to handle the super-egos of pro ballplayers is part of the job.

The NBA, which this year launched a women's professional league, is far ahead of other pro sports in acknowledging changing attitudes toward gender. There has been an evolution from the acceptance of women as athletes only in sports where they may wear skirts if they want -- golf, tennis, skating -- to seeing them run, kick and catch in almost any uniform imaginable. Colleges are under legal orders to spend more money on women's athletics.

More women athletes mean more women sports fans. They may not be clamoring to see WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes get obliterated trying to set a pick against a man-mountain like NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, but they would like to see women set new limits as to what they can do, if given the chance. And men are beginning to open their minds to what was unheard of on the field of play only five or 10 years ago.

It is passe to hear tales of girls on high school baseball or football teams. It is easier to visualize the day when a woman kicks an NFL field goal, enters a major league baseball game as a pinch runner or makes an NBA foul shot. The door being opened now is on the officiating level. Another once-inviolable rule is shattered.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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