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.
“That’s not a fucking foul,” he’d barked at Kennedy twice. When Rondo persisted, Kennedy assessed him a second technical and an ejection, after which Rondo stalked Kennedy, yelling after him, “You’re a motherfucking faggot. You’re a faggot, Billy,” according to the league’s report. “Billy was stunned that those were words that were used in 2015,” Adams says. “As the night wore on, you could see him reflecting and thinking. As he’s writing the report, he’s like, ‘It’s time that I come out and stand up.'”
Asked this summer whether they were aware Kennedy is gay, a number of players and coaches characterized Kennedy’s sexual identity as an open secret. But did Rondo know? A source close to the league’s investigation says that Rondo was asked by Elizabeth Maringer, the NBA’s vice president and assistant general counsel who led the investigation, whether he knew Kennedy was gay when the incident occurred. Rondo replied that he didn’t.
“If you would have told me when I first started out that the NBA would have a float in the frickin’ Gay Pride parade, in New York, I would have laughed at you,” says Scott, the gay major league umpire. “And so would Billy. He didn’t see this happening 10 years ago. Let alone five years ago.” Though multiple league sources confirm Silver was a full-throated supporter of the league being a strong presence at Pride, it didn’t come without some apprehension. “If you had asked me going in, I would’ve said, ‘I think it’s going to be 70 percent positive,'” Silver would later say. “We weren’t looking for PR, and we didn’t alert the media. But it was 100 percent positive, and that’s setting aside the public relations aspect. I didn’t understand how important symbolically the event was for my co-workers until that afternoon.”