How Two Black Women Referees Expanded the Conversation About Representation in Sports

In the conversation about gender equality in sports, most of the attention is focused on the players. Sometimes the attention is directed at the coaches, but for the most part, referees have been left out of the conversation.

Yet, there must be capable women with years of experience on their fields, courts and diamonds who could make those all-or-nothing game time calls as well as any white male referee.

Which is why the courtside appearance of Danielle Scott and Angelica Suffren, two black women referees, at an NBA Summer League game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat garnered so much attention.

Officiates are almost never paid attention to – unless they make a bad call – but this situation was different. Their inclusion means a lot to other women trying to stay close to the sport they’re passionate about and to female fans, who can see an instance of their sports knowledge respected by players, coaches and fans.

Women in sports are generally not treated the same as their male counterparts. They’re paid less and have less prominence. On this year’s Forbes’ ranking of highest-paid athletes, not a single woman was listed. Last year, Serena Williams ranked at the No. 51 spot, but likely fell off because of her maternity leave.

This is the first year the NBA has also recruited women to officiate their training ground program like the NBPA Top 100 Camp. Last year, women made up a third of the referees the NBA G League, their minor league basketball program.

One of the women, Jenna Schroeder, was a former college player who wanted to stay in the world of basketball after she stop playing. It’s the same sort of background expertise many male referees bring to the court, and now by training them through the NBA ranks, there’s a chance we’ll see many more women referees.

Before initiatives like this, women would either have to shelve their basketball career for good or compete for one of the highly coveted coaching jobs.

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