The NBA offseason has been active with change. Newly drafted players have begun trying to prove themselves to their new teams, many big name free agents have signed in new cities, while others like Dwight Howard await a potential trade.
But even with all these changes in talent, no player matches the significance of a move the league could be making this offseason — hiring two female referees.
According to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com Hangtime, two women are being considered as NBA referees for the 2012-13 season.
Lauren Holtkamp and Brenda Pantoja are the two being considered to become the league's newest officials. Both candidates are former WNBA referees, and also officiated the semifinals of the NBA's Development League playoffs. Joe Borgia, the league's Vice President of Referee Operations, said the two officials are among the best applicants for the jobs.
"They're top candidates," Borgia said. "In fairness to the other refs, I can't go any further than that."
Holtkamp and Pantoja would not be the first females to officiate in the National Basketball Association. In 1997, Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner became the first female referees to enter the league. Palmer is currently the NBA's only active female referee, and has worked the playoffs seven years running.
If the NBA decides to hire either (or both) Holtkamp and Pantoja, it will be taking another step in the right direction. The league made a statement when hiring Palmer and Kantner back in 1997, becoming the first of the United States' big four sports to hire a female referee.
The MLB, NFL and NHL all have not hired a single woman to officiate a game. And that is not because of a lack of supply.
For whatever reason, be it tradition, avoidance, or ignorance, the country's highest level of sports have excluded females from positions in which they could reasonably do just as well as men.
This isn't an argument of talent or ability. It's a simple matter of knowledge. And there's no reason to assume that Holtkamp, Pantoja or any other woman can't learn a sport just as well as a man can. So what if they have to put their hair in a ponytail? Gender doesn't impact an ability to see the court or blow a whistle.
The NBA has been a trailblazer in this regard. It has been 15 years since Palmer and Kantner were hired, and still the rest of professional sports hasn't caught on. But the NBA isn't waiting — it's moving forward.
The association hasn't put on a PR campaign or handled these refs with any special care, and that was the perfect way to do it. If the league were to hold the female referees in a different light, it would defeat the purpose of hiring them all together. They are held to the same standards as male refs, in both hiring and performance.
Just look at Kantner. She lasted less than five years in the NBA, and was fired in 2002 for poor performance. It's that simple. It didn't matter that she was female when she was hired, and it didn't when she was let go.
Maybe the MLB, NFL and NHL will follow suit in the near future. Palmer has solidified herself amongst NBA players and coaches as a great referee, and established a reputation that can lead the way for women after her. Only time will tell, as it has been 15 years since Palmer's first days in the NBA and the other leagues still haven't taken notice to consider a change.
The NBA doesn't make final decisions on candidates for referees until September. Regardless of whether Holtkamp or Pantoja make the cut, the league has made a statement just by recognizing them as top candidates. A statement that's showing actions speak louder than words.
(Photo via Flickr/afagen)