Last Thursday, the L.A. Clippers lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-94 in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. The score might have misleadingky made the game seem closer than it was as the Clippers clawed their way back to an 11 point deficient after falling behind by 23 at half time and 31 at the end of the third quarter. Led by Kevin Love’s 24 points and nine rebounds, LeBron James’ 23 points, the Cavs frustrated the Clippers.
The Clippers’ star point guard Chris Paul only made four shots on his 14 attempts, a poor game for the NBA All Star. But Paul did dominate one stat line, penalties. LA’s point guard vented his frustration by committing a flagrant foul against Cleveland’s center Timofey Mozgov. Later, Paul committed a second penalty in the third quarter when he snapped at referee Lauren Holtkamp after catching an inbound pass. But Chris Paul’s biggest bluster came in a post-game interview were he made comments that harshly criticized the officiating of the game.
ESPN reported Chris Paul calling out first-year referee Lauren Holtkamp, exclaiming that, “The tech that I get right there was ridiculous. I don’t care what nobody says, I don’t care what she says; that’s terrible. There’s no way that can be a tech…That’s ridiculous. If that’s the case, this might not be for her.”
Whether or not Paul’s statement was referring to Holtkamp’s gender as the basis of his criticism or just her decision to call a technical foul, his comment did imply that he believed Holtkamp did not have the ability to referee NBA games. Furthermore, regardless of gender, criticizing referees is terrible sportsmanship. This behavior cost Paul a $25,000 fine from the NBA, the league’s traditional penalty for calling out referees.
Lauren Holtkamp is one of two female referees currently working in the NBA, which employs nearly 70 referees.
Surprisingly, the NBA sets the bar in this regard and according to Sbnation.com, the NBA is the only major American sports organization, including the MLB, NFL and NHL, to employ female referees. Paul’s comments have directed more attention to this major discrepancy in sports refereeing. This is regardless of whether his comments were intentioned with sexism or just competitiveness.
Holtkamp has broken through into a position dominated by men, and it hasn’t been easy. Before being promoted to the NBA this year, Holtkamp served as substitute for six games last year on top of her experience refereeing games in the NBA’s D-league for six years. A large amount of experience which reveals that even though this is Holtkamp’s first year refereeing full time in the NBA, she is by no means new to officiating.
Holtkamp is not the first referee to call a technical foul on Paul’s team, as the Clippers currently lead the league with 58 technical fouls on the season. A statistic that could explain why the Clippers on a four game losing streak that doesn’t show signs of coming to an end as they take on Texas’ scary lineup of NBA teams in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, all in one week.
As reports surface that the Clippers’ star power forward Blake Griffin is heading into elbow surgery, Chris Paul needs to spend less time yelling at referees and more time trying to score baskets and win games. Against the Thunder a short while ago, Paul hit a jumper and stared down the Oklahoma City bench to which reigning MVP Kevin Durant replied, “You’re down 20 now, homie.”
Holtkamp has broken many barriers to make it where she is today, and it is unlikely that Chris Paul was the first or will be the last to tell her that her career path is “not for her.” Making this situation even more unfortunate, the NBA should be making every effort to encourage their referee corps to integrate an equal number of men and women, instead of allowing their most prominent players to openly call them out.
In addition to being one of the most talented players at his position, Chris Paul has an enormous amount of influence in the NBA as the president of the NBA Player’s Union. Voted into the position by his peers, Paul represents not only himself, but all of the NBA players when he speaks.
A fact that makes Paul’s recent comment even more unfortunate lies in his prominence and relevance in the modern game. Chris Paul has widely been considered the best point-guard in the league as of late, only recently surpassed in some debates by players like Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.
The day after the Clipper’s loss to the Cavs, Chris Paul chose to elaborate on his harsh criticism of the nights officiating, repeatedly saying “last night was about a bad call,” meaning that he didn’t intend to criticize Holtkamp based on her gender but instead on her ability as a referee to recognize a violation of the rules.
Yet regardless of what he meant to say, it is difficult not to interpret “this might not be for her” as a suggestion that Holtkamp does not belong in the NBA. Whether he intended it or not, Chris Paul involved himself in an issue that was more than how a play was called; he involved himself in the issue that there are only two full-time female referees in all of America’s four major sports leagues. The NBA and all other American sports leagues need more female referees like Holtkamp, not less.
Still, the league deserves credit for being the only major professional sports institution in the US for employing female officials. Violet Palmer, the first female referee to break this barrier, proved immensely influential for the future of female referees.
Palmer officiated her first game on opening night in 1997 and has since gone on to officiate many important games, including a game between the Knicks and Nuggets in 2006 that included an intense brawl. Palmer too had received early criticism from former players Charles Barkley and Dennis Scott. Barkley attacked her validity as a female but later apologized. Scott’s criticism revolved around the worry that female referees would receive verbal abuse from players due to their gender.
The NBA’s mission statement communicates that players and teams “will use their unique position to bring attention to important issues on a global scale and work to address them to the best of our ability.” Chris Paul brought much-needed attention to an “important issue,” the issue that in the U.S., women are not nearly as well-represented as men in elite positions in the workforce.
But instead of bringing positive attention to an important issue, we will remember Chris Paul choosing to ignore the magnitude of his words and maintaining that his comments were always about “a bad call,” when they really revealed so much more.