Just a month after Sarah Thomas refereed the Super Bowl as the first female official in the NFL, Maia Chaka has become the second woman, and first Black woman, to join the ranks.
“I’ve just been grinding for so long at this,” Chaka told Today. “It’s just an honor to be able to join the National Football League.” She started an officiating development program seven years ago and worked at the Senior Bowl college all-star game in January 2021. Chaka and Thomas were the only two women chosen for the program—the 19 other participants were male.
“It didn’t really hit me until just now,” Chaka said. “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.”
Chaka said that as an official, “You need to have a lot of patience, and then after having patience, you have to be able to listen, and then you need to have the confidence on the field to make the call. You also need to make sure that you are very decisive in that whatever decision you make, you stand by it.”
When she’s not on the field, Chaka works with at-risk youth at the Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach. To her students, and to anyone looking to make headway in a career path that hasn’t been open to them before, she advises, “If you have a passion for something and if 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…. Just continue to work hard and always, always, always just follow your dreams.”
It’s a great accomplishment for Chaka and represents sorely needed progress, but this moment also highlights the league’s continued inequity. Before 2015, the NFL had zero female officials. And it took six years since Thomas broke that barrier for another woman to be promoted to that position.
Hopefully, Chaka will be able to officiate games in a league that is fair to its players (ahem, Colin Kaepernick) and all its employees. In the meantime, congratulations, Maia Chaka!