Violet Palmer, the NBA's first female referee, retires

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Violet Palmer in 2015, working alongside <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/3708/" data-ylk="slk:Dwyane Wade">Dwyane Wade</a>. (Getty Images)
Violet Palmer in 2015, working alongside Dwyane Wade. (Getty Images)

Violet Palmer, who in 1997 joined Dee Kantner in becoming the first female referees in major American pro sports history, has worked her final NBA game. The veteran referee will hang it up, following her last turn in 2015-16, due to “injury issues.” Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck was the first to report the news.

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Though Kantner was eventually dismissed from the league’s cadre of refs, Palmer soldiered on through an 18-season NBA career. She worked postseason and All-Star Games, and in 2014 became the first openly gay NBA ref to come out.

Palmer was met with sharp criticism directly out of the gate, as players like Charles Barkley and the late Bison Dele carped immediately about the presence of female referees working on what was previously an all-male court. Violet had her struggles, in all fairness, and was roundly criticized for her work for the duration of her career.

With that in place, her notoriety as the league’s first female referee unfairly amplified concerns about her work. Whereas dozens of other male referees could skulk into the shadow of anonymity after a series of blown calls, just about everyone watching knew who Violet Palmer was.

As one of only a handful of referees that average fans knew by name, the scrutiny that followed her missteps was far overblown. All while scores of other – far worse – nameless male referees were allowed to have their many horrid calls overlooked by the time the next possession started.

Worse for Palmer, she entered the league when the NBA’s lead office had begun to insist its referees call a more exacting, less-personalized, style of game. The unfortunate irony that her rookie season and the league’s introduction of the block/charge line underneath the basket came in the same season should be lost on no fan.

According to Beck, Palmer will continue to work within the NBA as “a manager in referee operations.” Lauren Holtkamp, a two-year veteran, will enter 2016-17 as the league’s only current female referee.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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