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Maia Chaka to become first Black female ref in NFL

Maia Chaka is kicking off Women’s History Month in a significant way.

The NFL announced on Friday morning that Chaka is joining the NFL officiating crew for the 2021 season. This appointment makes her the first Black female official in the league’s history. 

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

Chaka’s resume is impressive for any official. She joins the crew after officiating stints with the Pac-12, Conference USA, and the short-lived XFL. 

In 2014, the NFL selected Chaka for its officiating development program. The program aims to identify top collegiate officiating talent and expose them to some of the same NFL officials’ experiences. By the program’s end, it should determine if they have the ability to succeed as an NFL official. 

And Chaka didn’t just prove her worth. She also paid her dues along the way. 

Oct 20, 2018; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; UTSA Roadrunners head coach Frank Wilson (left) talks to head linesman Maia Chaka in the second half against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at M. M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Executive VP of Operations Troy Vincent outlined the significance of this moment in a statement as well.

“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,” said Vincent. 

“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 is a graduate of Norfolk State University. There, she earned her bachelor’s degree in education. She’s currently a health and physical education teacher in the Virginia Beach public school system at Renaissance Academy. 

Chaka’s appointment makes her the second woman to become an NFL official. It must be remember that Chaka is following Sarah Thomas’s footsteps, who made NFL history several seasons ago.

 In 2015, Thomas became the league’s first female official. She also recently became the first female official to work in the Super Bowl, working Super Bowl LV. It’s also worth noting that Chaka and Thomas have a history together. In 2014, both trailblazers worked together as officials in Conference USA.

How did Chaka learn the big news?

While the news official broke Friday morning, Chaka learned of her appointment on March 1st. After a phone call with Wayne Mackie, NFL Vice President of Officiating Evaluation and Development, she received the historic news. She discussed it Friday morning during an interview on TODAY

“He goes, ‘Welcome to the National Football League,’ and I just went nuts,” Chaka told NBC. “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.”

For Chaka, this is a significant achievement. However, this is arguably even bigger news for the NFL. The league has received its fair share of criticism over the years for its perceived lack of diversity.

And rightfully so. 

Despite that, today’s announcement showcases a changing of the guard. While Chaka’s appointment adds to the NFL mission to diversify the league, it continues to open the door for the inclusion of women in important positions in the NFL. 

Chaka began her officiating career 15 years ago. The moment that she never thought would come is several months ago. While closing her interview with TODAY, she spoke on several vital traits a person needs to be in her position. She talked about needing patience, a willingness to listen, and knowing when to be decisive.

“You’re going to make mistakes,” she explained. “It’s not necessarily how many mistakes that you make. It’s how you recover from all those mistakes that you make.”

Along with that, she’s hoping her story will serve as an inspiration to many.

“I just want them to know that 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 something may give you some kind of limitation,” she said. “Continue to work hard and always, always, always just follow your dreams.”

Chaka will make her debut this Fall when the NFL kicks its season off on September 9th.

If you want to get in touch with Kory Woods, email him at kory@woodwardsports.com. Also, you can stay connected with him on Twitter by following @koryewoods.

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