Female Referees

What are the experience of female referees in male sports? How does gender play out in this power differential?

For my very first job, I was a Little League baseball umpire. I don’t exactly remember why, but I imagine I wanted the job because it had to do with a sport, it paid well, it allowed for a flexible schedule, and the league was well-organized. At the time, I was also playing on the high school boys’ baseball team, so while I was aware of being the only girl, that didn’t seem to hold me back. In fact, it may have actually encouraged me to umpire--because I liked being different. I was also able to encourage my brother and dad to sign up to umpire with me. My brother stopped after two years, but my dad and I would often work games together (typically, there are at least two umpires on a field at a time).

Still, looking back, the decision to umpire seems a little bit strange to me. The best you can realistically hope for is a game where you’re not yelled at. If no one notices you, you’ve done a good job. That being said, as a young female, I’m sure that people noticed and remembered me. I know that I stood out to the umpires, and I imagine that they may have given more advanced games more quickly. Besides that, however, I’m not sure if I was treated any differently by the players, coaches, or fans. I definitely got yelled at… I stopped umpiring when I moved away for college (and then I had other jobs).

To my knowledge, I’ve never personally known another female referee. But I know there are now two female refs in the NBA (three ever) and one in the NFL. One female ref worked one game in the NHL until she got pregnant, and there has never been a female ref in the MLB (Female Referees in Professional Sports). Why do female referees do what they do? What has been their experience? How does their gender play a role in their identities and careers? How do others (other refs, coaches, players, fans) perceive them as referees? Why have there been more (although very few) referees in the NBA? Why has there only been one in the NFL and NHL, and why have there been none in MLB?

Additional questions: Could and should this study be extended to other sports? How can this study be extended to the greater society, or does it need to be?

Krista SchnellComment