PROgressive sports roundup: NBA, NHL, NFL and more

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Tanya Young Williams officiates the wedding for Violet Palme and Tanya Stine. — Photo: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The San Antonio Spurs recently hired Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff.

When Hammon retires from her 16-year WNBA career at the end of the San Antonio Stars’ season, she will move to the staff of the defending NBA champions, working with Gregg Popovich on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day grind of practice.

“Nothing in my life has really ever been easy. I’ve always been someone who did it uphill,” Hammon said. “I’m up for challenges. I’m up for being outside the box, making tough decisions and challenges. ... And I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. Throw those all in there and this was the perfect challenge and opportunity.”

NBA REF MARRIES HER LONGTIME PARTNER

Violet Palmer made her biggest call yet: The NBA referee married her partner of 20 years on Aug. 1.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Palmer said she came out as a lesbian to her fellow NBA referees in 2007. She has not tried to keep her sexual orientation a secret from the league since that time.

“This is actually the big formal coming out,” Palmer said. “We are saying to the world, to everyone, here’s my wife of 20 years. This is the big coming out.”

Palmer married celebrity hair stylist Tanya Stine in Los Angeles. The ceremony was officiated by Basketball Wives LA star Tanya Young Williams, the ex-wife of former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams.

Palmer broke barriers in 1997 when she became the first female to referee an NBA game. Under scrutiny from her first tipoff, Palmer instantly proved she could withstand the grumbling and ref baiting that comes with forging a career in a men’s game. 

Palmer said she had been open about her sexual orientation in the NBA for years. There was never a formal public coming out because she didn’t want it to overshadow her work blowing the whistle on every star from Shaq to Kobe to LeBron.

ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALLER COMES OUT AS GAY

Arizona State offensive lineman Edward “Chip” Sarafin has told a local magazine he is gay, making him the first active Division I football player to come out.

A fifth-year senior, Sarafin told Phoenix-based Compete that he began telling teammates about his sexual orientation last spring.

“It was really personal to me, and it benefited my peace of mind greatly,” he said in the magazine’s August issue.

The walk-on lineman follows the precedent set by St. Louis Rams linebacker Michael Sam. Sam told teammates he was gay during his playing days, although he did not come out publicly until after finishing his career at Missouri.

Numerous other athletes have come out as gay the past couple of years, opening the door for players like Sarafin to do it without much fear of repercussions from teammates or coaches. Brittney Griner, the WNBA’s no. 1 draft pick in 2013, casually came out as a lesbian shortly after joining the Phoenix Mercury. Massachusetts sophomore Derrick Gordon became the first active, male, openly gay Division I basketball player when he came out in April. And Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to play in an NBA game after signing with the Brooklyn Nets last season.

In other sports news …

• The NHL, in a first of its kind report, says that climate change threatens hockey, a sport that many pros began playing on the frozen ponds and lakes of North America. “The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman. “But before many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe. ... Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game.”

• NFL teams, to guard against another bullying scandal, held sensitivity sessions during training camp. The focus during the pre-season has been on St. Louis, where the first openly gay player in NFL history, Michael Sam, is in training. The team has treated Sam just like most of their players, despite the extra attention seventh-round draft pick has been getting from the press.

• NFL innovations coming this season that fans might notice: Teams will deliver pre- and post-snap photos to coaches and players on the sidelines. The uprights will now extend to 35 feet above the crossbar, up from 30 feet. All seven game officials will now be able to communicate with each other during NFL games via wireless microphones. And the referee will be able to consult with the vice president of officiating during replay reviews.

• The 95th season of the NFL kicks off in Seattle on Sept. 4, with the Packers taking on the Seahawks. Pharrell Williams and Soundgarden will perform a pre-game show outside the stadium. Ariana Grande will sing the anthem and Bob Costas will lead the broadcast team. 

• The Green Bay Packers this summer unveiled a bronze statue outside Lambeau Field that honors one of the team’s traditions: the Lambeau Leap. The sculpture pays tribute to the post-touchdown celebration of a player jumping into the stands behind the end zone. Former Packers safety LeRoy Butler is credited with starting the ritual on Dec. 26, 1993, in a game against the Los Angeles Raiders.

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