In a statement, the WNBA conceded the officiating crew for the fifth and deciding game of the Finals not only blew a crucial call in the final two minutes, but failed to even review it, in effect costing the Lynx their record fourth championship in five years and delivering the Los Angeles Sparks the title. “After reviewing postgame video, we have determined that Nneka Ogwumike’s shot with 1:14 remaining in regulation time should not have counted due to a shot-clock violation, and that the referees improperly failed to review the play under the instant replay rules.”
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeves recognized this in the immediate aftermath during a candidate interview: “It’s not fair to the players,” said Reeve. “It’s not enough just to apologize and send out a memo that they got something wrong. These players are so invested, and something must be done about the officiating in this league, because it isn’t fair to these great players.”
You’ve had a really long career as an on-court referee, and you’ve also talked about the importance of having women in the pipeline, on the college side as well. How have you seen the evolution of women in the referee industry since you’ve been an NBA ref? Violet Palmer: That’s something else I’ve really been proud of. When I first started, I used to walk into a room and I was the only woman. I never knew that what I was doing would open up these doors. Not that I’m trying to brag about it because I’m totally humbled by everything that’s happened to me. But there’s a female ref in the NFL now, and people text and email me and go ‘You’re responsible for her being on that field, she’s gotten that opportunity because you’ve made it possible. In a man’s world, people can judge women by their work and not by their gender.’ And that’s why I’m humbled to hear that. I was just trying to be a good, solid referee, because that’s really all I’ve ever wanted to be. With the league hiring Lauren Holtkamp, that says a lot as well. We’ve made it, we’re respected — not as women but because we can do our job. Now you watch the NBA, and you see women commentators, women coaches. I’ve helped with breaking that barrier, showing people ‘you know what, we’re good at what we do, and we just want a fair opportunity to go out and do our jobs.’
Was there ever a moment where the scrutiny of you personally, or of referees in general, became really overwhelming? Violet Palmer: I think there were comments about gender, but that was to be expected. But I want to set the record straight — for any referee, you’re going to deal with scrutiny. That’s part of the business. It’s just something that goes with being a referee. Once you put that shirt on, that’s a target on your back. But I just said, ‘I’m going to go out, I’m going to do my job, I’m going to be good at it, and that will take care of all the naysayers.’
You were also the first NBA ref to come out as gay. In your trailblazing career, where did that stand with everything else? Violet Palmer: I can honestly say that there was no negativity with that. None. When my wife and I decided to get married, that just happened. I’ve been with my wife for 22 years, we’ve been married for two years now. And I think it’s a good example to show people that a relationship is a relationship and love is love, and I think that’s what people saw.