Women officiators become more common in sports

Due to the changing times, the number of women officiating in a male-dominated profession is increasing annually.


**Confirming a call…** *Working through a language barrier between referee Laura White (left) and an Italian player, White gets closer to confirm a timeout and face off location called. This was a Division 1-Group B IIHF tournament that took place in Asiago, Italy in 2018.* *Photo reprinted with permission from Laura White*

A growing number of women are choosing to officiate in professional and non-professional sports. Some have experienced gender discrimination from male associates.
One female softball umpire in the area decided to become an umpire when she tore her ACL during high school.
“It limited me from playing softball anymore,” softball umpire Lauren Keebler said. “The only way that I could keep in contact with the sport and continue doing something that I love was to be an umpire.”
Some other women have different motives for officiating.
“I enjoy being a part of the game again and having the competitive aspect of ice hockey back in my life and being able to give back to the sport because without officials, you can’t play,” ice hockey referee Laura White said.
Some female officials have experienced less respect than what male officials receive.
According to Keebler, at first, some male coaches do not have respect for women umpires and try to “walk all over” them, but when they get to know female referees, they are “more accepting” of them.
According to ice hockey referee Madelyn Nelson, coaches say to her at least three times a year that “You’re a woman, you shouldn’t be reffing ice hockey.”
Not only are some of the coaches not as welcoming as others, but some spectators are not, either.
“We get it pretty often from a coach, a team, a player or even parents; as soon as you walk in the rink they think that you don’t know the game as well as they do or that you’re not going to be able to keep up with their team or kid’s pace,” White said.
Although there have been challenges brought to some females when it comes to officiating, some of them have positive outlooks on their experience.
“Overall it’s phenomenal. I can’t really complain,” Keebler said.
Some other women have had to deal with other different encounters off the field.
“A lot of the officials were older. A lot of them were awkward with it, especially changing in the same locker room and making sure we all had the same sport rules,” Nelson said.
In 1972, Bernice Gera became the first female to umpire in a professional baseball game.
According to Sports Collectors Daily journalist Bob D’Angelo, throughout the game, male coaches said things to Gera like “That’s two mistakes you made. The first one was putting on your uniform” and “You should have stayed home in the kitchen peeling potatoes.”
After the game ended, Gera “walked into Phillies’ general manager Joe McDonough’s office and said she was quitting after the seven inning game,” wrote D’Angelo.
In the current professional sports world, Sarah Thomas became the first female to officiate the 2021 Super Bowl. In past years, she’s also become the first female to officiate in a major college football game, and to officiate in a Big Ten stadium.