Maia Chaka hired as NFL’s first Black woman on-field official

NEW YORK — Maia Chaka on Friday was named the first Black woman to join the NFL’s on-field officiating staff, the league announced.

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Chaka joins Sarah Thomas as the first women to officiate an NFL game. Thomas, who was hired in 2015, worked Super Bowl LV last month.

The NFL announced Chaka’s hiring during a segment on “Today.”

“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 has officiated at the college level, including stints in the Pac-12 Conference and Conference USA. She also has pro experience from working in the XFL during the 2020 season, according to Bleacher Report. That league’s season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Chaka and Thomas made history in 2014 when they became the first female officials to work an FBS bowl game, between Washington and BYU, “Today” reported.

>> Sarah Thomas first woman to officiate Super Bowl

In 2014, Chaka was chosen for the NFL’s Officiating Development Program, which identifies top collegiate officiating talent to expose them to some of the same experiences as NFL officials, the league said in a news release.

“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,” Troy Vincent Sr., the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said in a 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.”

Chaka said on “Today” that she learned of her promotion on Monday from Wayne Mackie, the NFL’s vice president of officiating evaluation and development.

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

Chaka has a bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State University, where she majored in health, physical education and exercise science, WAVY-TV reported. She also participated in the teacher’s certificate program and was a member of the Health, Physical Education, and Exercise Science Majors Club, the television station reported.

“We are so very proud of Maia Chaka for the history she made today by becoming the first Black female referee in the National Football League,” NSU President Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston said in a statement. “She is a trailblazer, proudly representing NSU, Black women, and HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities). As I have learned more about Maia and her connection to NSU, her story should be one of inspiration for the entire Spartan community and for all women seeking careers in the sports entertainment industry.”

Chaka has been a health and physical education teacher, working with students with unique needs at Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for 15 years, USA Today reported.

“She cares for her immediate family and her extended family,” Kay Thomas, the director of alternative education at Renaissance Academy told the newspaper. “She cares for her kids here. She cares for her profession. She cares for her refereeing. That’s a lot to organize and carry, but she pulls it all off with a tremendous amount of grace.”

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