Why The Chris Paul Incident May Not Be The Right Time To Cry Foul
Sometimes it's simply not worth a fight.
Sometimes, as our parents probably told us at least once while growing up, it's better to walk away.
If NBA referees were allowed to speak publicly, I'm guessing that's what Lauren Holtkamp would say. I'm guessing this because all referees and umpires are taught to believe this, though some have had a hard time remembering at times.
We will probably hear some residual complaints on both sides a few days after Chris Paul was fined $25,000 by the league for criticism of Holtkamp, an NBA rookie referee -- and a female -- during the Clippers' loss to the Cavaliers last week.
Paul was called for a technical in the third quarter after Holtkamp stopped play, saying the Clippers tried to inbound the ball too quickly.
"I think we have to show better composure, but at the same time, some of the [technical fouls] were ridiculous," Paul said after the game. "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. We try to get the ball out fast every time down the court, and when we did that, she said 'Uh-uh.' I said, 'Why uh-uh?' And she gave me a tech. ... That's ridiculous. If that's the case, this might not be for her."
This was not the first time Paul has offended a referee on a basketball court. He has been called for 79 technical fouls in his career. This time, he went one sentence further, drawing the immediate ire of the National Basketball Referees Association, which understandably stood behind one of its own and said in a written statement, "We deplore the unprofessional comments made by Chris Paul. She belongs."
I hope Holtkamp got a few backslaps in the referees room for handing out the T, which she obviously thought was justified. If she second-guessed herself, or if her fellow officials did, we will never know because that's the beauty of the referee code.
With few exceptions, there is no tweeting, no Facebook messages, no blabbing of any kind in their world. There might be a statement after a game by the head of the crew following a particularly questionable call, but it is generally an antiseptic interpretation of a rule.
Just as the refs' union stood behind Holtkamp, the players' union, headed up by a woman, had Paul's back. So too did an assistant coach on another team, with Becky Hammon tweeting that she didn't think Paul's comments had anything to do with gender.
Let's face it: That last sentence did. But a player insulting a ref by yelling something personal is hardly news. Holtkamp may have even considered it a notch on her proverbial belt.
Violet Palmer, a veteran NBA ref who has been quietly doing her job since 1997, and Dee Kantner, who worked five years in the league and is now the WNBA supervisor of officials, undoubtedly know this.
Pam Postema knew it too.
Postema was about to embark on her first full spring working major league games after four seasons as a Triple-A umpire in 1988, when I interviewed her for the Orlando Sentinel.
"I know the words but I don't take any stock in the language," she said of the things players and managers will sometimes say to an ump. "Basically, they say to me the same thing they say to the other guys."
Ten days later, Postema was behind the plate for a spring training game between the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates, and afterward, standing outside the Astros' clubhouse, I asked Astros starting pitcher Bob Knepper about how she did.
"I thought she did OK," Knepper said. "I just don't think a woman should be an umpire. There are certain things a woman shouldn't be and an umpire is one of them. It's a physical thing. God created women to be feminine. I don't think they should be competing with men.
"It has nothing to do with her ability. I don't think women should be in any position of leadership. I don't think they should be presidents or politicians. I think women were created not in an inferior position but in a role of submission to men.
"You can be a woman umpire if you want but that doesn't mean it's right. You can be a homosexual if you want, but that doesn't mean it's right either."
Rest assured, this was as offensive and absurd in 1988 as it is today, and makes Paul's one sentence seem even more insignificant. And it did draw some national attention. But with the citizen journalist/social media craze decades from being in full bloom, it went away almost as quickly as it occurred.
The National Organization for Women threatened to boycott Astros games, but Postema said nothing, the Astros and MLB did nothing and we all moved along, those who knew Knepper was a goof not at all surprised.
For Postema, who was competing with seven other umps for two open major league spots that spring, it was all about doing her job, and plenty of other players and managers thought she did it quite well.
Charlie Kerfeld, who relieved Knepper that day, took exception to his teammate's remarks.
"I think that's the male ego talking, myself," Kerfeld said. "I've had Pam as an umpire numerous times since I signed when I was 18, and I've always felt she does a very good job behind the plate.
"I've always noticed she doesn't put up with a lot of crap. She's paid her dues and I can relate to that. No question she's going to make it in the majors."
Postema never did care about the Kneppers of the world, and she never did get her shot. Commissioner Bart Giamatti was a supporter, in 1988 offering her a chance to ump the Hall of Fame Game. But Giamatti died in 1989 and Postema's minor league contract was canceled in December of that year after 13 seasons.
She filed a sexual discrimination suit in federal court and reached an undisclosed settlement.
That fight was worth it and Postema's legal actions may well have paved the way for others, though not nearly enough in baseball. But fighting Bob Knepper? It wouldn't have changed a thing.
Sometimes, you have to pick your battles. And beating up Paul for one sentence just isn't worth it.