Meet Maia Chaka, the NFL's first Black female official for 2021 season

Meet Maia Chaka, the NFL's first Black female official for 2021 season

The NFL has added a second female official to its officiating roster for 2021. Maia Chaka, who joins Super Bowl 55 down judge Sarah Thomas, will make history in her own right as the first Black woman to officiate games in the league.

The announcement was made exclusively on NBC’s “The TODAY Show” on Friday morning. Chaka, who spent seven years in the NFL’s Officiating Development Program, was overwhelmed learning the news of her March 1 promotion from working college football games in the Pac-12 Conference.

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“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.”

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While Chaka can’t wait to get to work, here’s what you should know about her:

What is Maia Chaka’s non-NFL job?

Chaka, a 2006 graduate of Norfolk State University, is a high school health and physical education teacher at the Renaissance Academy, part of the public school system in Virginia Beach. When she was 32 in the summer of 2014, she was one of 21 referees chosen for the NFL’s Officiating Development Program. She was one of two women selected — the other was Thomas, who hails from Brandon, Miss.

“There were a couple of scouts around the area and they watched me progress as an official throughout my college career,” Chaka told The Virginian-Pilot seven years ago. “And based upon my performance in college, they invited me to be a part of the program.”

At the time, then-NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino heaped high praise on Chaka, saying she had a “great understanding of the game.” Also in the article, Blandino expressed confidence that Chaka would move up the ranks fast through the program, much like Thomas did. 

“Maia has just worked her way up the ladder,” Blandino said then. “She’s shown progress at every level. We look forward to her continuing her career in officiating.”

Maia Chaka knows her achievement is groundbreaking

Chaka is well aware that earning her new position is important to continue opening doors for more diversity in the NFL’s hires, officiating and otherwise.

“I am honored to be selected as an NFL official,” Chaka said in a statement released by the league. “But this moment is bigger than a personal accomplishment. I​t is an accomplishment for all women, my community, and my culture.”​

The importance of rewarding Chaka also isn’t lost on Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice 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,” Vincent said in the statement. “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.”

What is Maia Chaka’s previous officiating experience?

Chaka and Thomas made history together for Conference USA as two female officials on the same crew for the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.

Chaka officiated as a head linesman for Pac-12 games last season. Her most recent assignment in that capacity was at an all-star game for NFL scouts, the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 30.

She also was named to an officiating crew in the short-lived XFL revival in 2020 after working Alliance of American Football games in 2019. Although 2021 will mark her first NFL regular-season assignments, Chaka already has worked four preseason games as part of the developmental program.