On Sunday, September 11, Maia Chaka became the first Black female referee to serve in an NFL game, converting on her March accomplishment of becoming the first Black woman to be selected as an NFL official. Who is the newest female NFL referee, and how did she get to where she is today?
Who is Maia Chaka, the newest female NFL referee?
Maia Chaka is a health and physical education teacher in the Virginia Beach public school system, working at the Renaissance Academy with students who have unique needs. Her colleagues share glowing reviews of Chaka’s work quality and drive, describing her as “a leader by example who inspires confidence.”
One of the defining qualities of Chaka to this point is her perseverance through adversity. Through the past year’s hardships, Chaka helped to bring the Renaissance Academy to the other side. She co-operated initiatives to help students engage and interact with faculty during Zoom calls. She also helped cultivate a desire to attend virtual meetings.
Chaka no doubt brings a rare kind of passion, but she’s also consistent and reliable with that passion. That consistency ultimately served as a strong foundation to build toward her goal of being an NFL official.
Maia Chaka spent time in the NFL’s Officiating Development Program
The NFL’s Officiating Program was established to identify officials working in college who could make the transition to the NFL. The program trains prospective NFL officials by exposing them to NFL situations. Chaka, who worked as a referee in the Pac-12 and Conference USA, caught the NFL’s eye. She eventually joined the program in 2014.
After joining the NFL’s Officiating Program in 2014, Chaka made her way through the system. She eventually reached the pinnacle, becoming one of the first female NFL referees and the first Black woman to serve as an NFL official. She also served as an official for the XFL in 2020.
In a statement provided by the NFL, Chaka said, “I am honored to be selected as an NFL official. But this moment is bigger than a personal accomplishment. It is an accomplishment for all women, my community, and my culture.”
Chaka also received praise in a statement from Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive president of football operations.
“Maia’s years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance — including as part of the NFL Officiating Development Program — have earned her a position as an NFL official. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, Maia is a trailblazer as the first Black female official and inspires us toward normalizing women on the football field.”
Hard work, dedication, and drive
Chaka was brought on to the NFL’s officiating staff in March, just one month after Sarah Thomas became the first female NFL referee to appear in the Super Bowl. Chaka’s debut, however, wouldn’t come until the beginning of the 2021 regular season. In a Week 1 outing between the Carolina Panthers and the New York Jets, Chaka made her first appearance as a line judge.
For Chaka, it was a moment that converted on years of hard work and perseverance. But in that moment, Chaka knows it’s important not to forget the work that got her there. In an interview for CBS, Chaka said:
“You can’t just wake up one day and decide to be an NFL official. You have to train. And just that constant exposure of being around it and being around other veteran officials. I think that was definitely helpful.”
Chaka learned to be both persistent and patient as the process went on. But her drive never wavered — and that’s something that should stay constant as she furthers her career as one of the first female NFL referees. But Chaka doesn’t want to be celebrated individually. Instead, she hopes it’s the beginning of more women involved in every step of the process at the NFL level.
“We want to be more inclusive,” Chaka said in an interview with The Undefeated. “We want to have more women involved, in all aspects of football. There are a ton of job opportunities within the National Football League that don’t necessarily have to do with being on the field. And just having them be around in that aspect, too, can be helpful. Everybody needs a woman’s touch, right?”