The NBA’s normal two-woman referee crew

Two women officiating men’s sports is a big deal—to an extent

~Anna Thomas, Staff Writer~

“The National Basketball Association (NBA) will be making history on Monday night as it will mark the first time that two female referees will officiate the same game,” read a CBS Sports article that was published just before referees Natalie Sago and Jenna Schroeder fulfilled those words. However, if history was made, where is the conversation? Where’s the ESPN feature? Perhaps those are just unnecessary. 

Sago and Schroeder were two of the three referees during the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic game on Monday, Jan. 25, making them the first two-women referee crew in NBA history. Although I was happy to see the headlines on the important milestone, I wondered why this wasn’t being blasted across social media and television. The sports world is a key stage in breaking glass ceilings and echoing feminist movements. Quite simply, it is, historically, a predominantly male entrenched field in both occupation and fan base. Usually, we plaster something like the news of Sago and Schroeder everywhere. Why was this not bigger news? Is this really even a big deal? If so, why did we not talk about it for days, like we did Sarah Fuller, the first woman to compete in a collegiate Power Five conference, meaning the Athletic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference (SEC), game? 

For starters, yes, this is a big deal. From the first female referee in the NBA in 1997, to the five active referees in 2021 and now the first chiefly female crew—that’s steady movement. The idea of not one, but two women on the court in a professional and televised basketball game goes beyond the “pioneer woman.” Rather, it takes a step into normalizing and destigmatizing women in roles that are preponderantly held by men. 

It doesn’t stop with Sago and Schroeder. The National Football League (NFL) also “made history” on Sunday with the first woman, Sarah Thomas, to ever officiate a Super Bowl. We are moving past the idea of making history and, instead, towards the reality of normalized equality. 

To that point, nothing normal is ever talked about. Maybe it’s good that this occasion kind of just happened without too much of a fuss. I do not say this to deemphasize its magnitude, but to encourage the regularity of women in sports. It’s normal. Sago and Schroeder are women doing a non-gendered job. Let’s tip our hats to the accomplishment, but carry on and treat them as the referees in black and white stripes that they are. There is an important balance between celebrating a broken stereotype or expectation and accepting it as what should be ordinary. Giving a modest nod of acknowledgement and approval is appropriate. Let’s all be like the superstar who doesn’t smile after they make a contested three-point shot. Let’s have the confidence to admit we all knew this was coming. 

If this is a one-and-one free throw scenario, then women have made the first shot. We aren’t stepping back from the free-throw line now. There is more work to be done—another shot to be made.

So, in light of normalizing women referees, it is only fitting that I stop writing about it. One day, something like this will not be considered news. That’s the world I want to be in—the game I want to watch. 
CBS Article: Two female referees to officiate same game for first time in NBA history – CBSSports.com

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