Violet Palmer. Blake Bolden. Karen Daniel. Three black women with unique stories about how they went their respective ways in sports. The Los Angeles Sparks brought these three trailblazers together for a Zoom panel discussion earlier this year.
“It’s a really tough business. We’re 50% right, 50% wrong, even if we’re 100% right, ”said Palmer, the NBA’s first black female umpire. She was one of two women who completed the league officials training program and was assigned to league officials in 1997. She worked until she retired in 2016 at the age of 52 due to knee problems.
“I fell in love with hockey,” said Bolden, the first black woman to be drafted in the NWHL, now the Premier Hockey Federation. She is now the NHL’s first black scoutin.
Her grandfather taught her baseball when she was six, recalled Daniel, who became the first black MLB owner when she joined the Kansas City Royals’ ownership group in 2020.
Now retired, Palmer first became a civil servant after a college basketball career. “There was no WNBA. At that time I had to go abroad and try to play [pro] Basketball, which I really didn’t want to do. I had to get out into the real world and find a job, ”she admitted.
Officiating became her second option if she wanted to stay in the game. “I’m a basketball junkie. I put the striped shirt on and everything changed for me. ”After working on high school games, Palmer eventually moved to college – she worked on four women’s final fours before the NBA called.
“I didn’t know if the NBA was going to hire me or not,” said Palmer, who became the first female official to work on a league postseason game in 2006. “I love it. I just loved it.”
Born in Cleveland, Bolden began playing hockey as an elementary school kid and played college hockey at Boston College, where she was an All-American and played in three frozen fours. She also played for Team USA and a championship team in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before being drafted by what was then the NWHL. She was a two-time league all-star and played in Switzerland (2018) before retiring as a player in 2019.
Bolden said it was an honor to be the first and sometimes the only black. Regarding her current job: “I have prepared for this position.”
“I was born and raised [in Kansas City] and spent a large part of my life there, ”noted Daniel. She worked as an accountant in the US for over a decade, which she described as a “very male-dominated” world. “In the early 1990s, I made the decision to expand my career and become an entrepreneur,” and moved to a large construction company. “I worked there for 26 years, including 18 years as CFO and eventually became a board member and division president.”
After he retired from the business, Daniel was asked by the new owners of the Royals to join the group. “It really increases my ability to influence the community and my focus is on underrepresented, underserved communities,” she said.
All three black women pride themselves on their accomplishments in breaking barriers and collapsing ceilings, but they are aware that there are others who look like them and deserve this opportunity too.
“You just have to have your own gut thickness and know that you are qualified. They know you worked hard. They know you deserve to be there, ”advised Palmer.