Maia Chaka’s history-making climb up the ranks as a football referee reached the pinnacle Friday when the NFL announced she has become the first Black woman to become a league official.
Chaka, a former health and physical education teach from Virginia Beach, is the second women to become an NFL referee after Sarah Thomas, who has been officiating in the league since 2015 and was on the Super Bowl crew last month.
The announcement of Chaka’s promotion was made on the Today Show.
“It didn’t really hit me until just now,” Chaka said on the broadcast. “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 has been training with the NFL since 2014, when she and Thomas were chosen for the NFL Officiating Development Program. At the time, Chaka was splitting her time between work as a referee and as a teacher at Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach.
Before that, Chaka had been a referee for eight seasons, beginning with high school games in Hampton Roads. She also officiated in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and Conference USA, and in 2014 she and Thomas were the first female officials to work a Football Bowl Subdivision game – the Fight Hunger Bowl between BYU and Washington.
“I was speechless,” Chaka told The Pilot in 2015 upon earning a spot in the NFL development program. “I know some officials who have been working pretty hard their whole life and they haven’t reached the level that I’ve gotten to. I was just really honored that I was thought that highly of as an official.”