Happy & Inspirational

Maia Chaka Becomes NFL’s First Black Female Referee

"I just never thought the day would come," she said.

Maia Chaka has made history by becoming the first Black woman to become an NFL official at football’s highest level. The announcement was made on TODAY last Friday, seven years after Chaka was one of only two women chosen for an NFL officiating development program.

“It didn’t really hit me until just now,” Chaka said on TODAY. “When I saw the introduction, I’m like, ‘This is really real,’ because this is just something that we’re just always taught to work hard for. Sometimes we just don’t take time to stop and smell our own roses. I’ve just been grinding for so long at this, it’s just an honor to be able to join the National Football League.”

Chaka is also only the second woman to become an NFL official after Sarah Thomas, who took the role in 2015. Last month, Thomas became the first female referee to work the Super Bowl.

The NFL Officiating Twitter account also shared the news, writing, “We welcome Maia Chaka to the 2021 roster of game officials!”

Chaka’s life-changing news, which came during a phone conversation on March 1 with her mentor, NFL vice president of officiating evaluation and development Wayne Mackie, was a surprise. After telling Chaka he wanted her to get prepared for an upcoming meeting, Mackie added, “Also, you have a lot of work ahead of you.”

“He goes, ‘Welcome to the National Football League,’ and I just went nuts,” Chaka revealed. “I asked him, ‘Hey are you punking me, you’ve gotta be kidding me,’ because I’ve been at it for so long, I just never thought the day would come. I just enjoyed working.”

Chaka will now be part of the NFL regular season referee crew, after working NFL preseason games as part of the development program. She started her career in 2006 doing high school games, before moving up the college ranks to Conference USA, then the Pac-12 Conference.

Aside from officiating football games, she’s been a health and physical education teacher at Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach, Virginia, working with at-risk youth. Her school system congratulated her in a tweet, calling her “a great role model for young women everywhere”:

“I just want them to know if you have a passion for something and if you have a drive for something, don’t let it hold you back just because you think that something may give you some type of limitation,” Chaka told TODAY. “Just continue to work hard and always, always, always just follow your dreams.”