The NFL is quickly setting new milestones with the hiring of Maia Chaka as an on-field official for the 2021 season. She will be the first Black woman to officiate an NFL game. Chaka was officially announced in a segment of NBC’s Today show.
The hiring comes just months after the first all-Black crew was assigned to an NFL game and just a month removed from the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. Chaka will join down judge Sarah Thomas as the second female on-field official in the NFL. There are two additional women in the replay booths as well as three women who assist in the centralized replay hub.
Chaka told Today she received a call from development supervisor Wayne Mackie on March 1. Mackie was the vice president of development during her time in the program. Walt Anderson was hired as the senior vice president of officiating development and training in January 2020 with Mackie still working in a development capacity. (NBC reports that Mackie still holds the vice president title, which Football Zebras has not confirmed.) Mackie has been a mentor to Chaka for many years, so the call was not unusual, but she thought he was joking when he slipped into the conversation, “Welcome to the National Football League.”
“And I just went nuts,” Chaka said in the interview. “I asked him, ‘Hey, are you punking me? You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Because I’ve been at it for so long, I just never thought the day would come. I just enjoyed working.”
Chaka has been in the league’s development pipeline since 2014. She was on the roster of the Officiating Development Program for four seasons, and apparently dropped after 2017. With a change in officiating leadership in the development area, she got a second look and returned to the program in 2020, which was all a virtual exercise on account of the pandemic. She worked in the Senior Bowl in January, a game the NFL selects the college officials it is evaluating.
“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 told Today.
Chaka officiated in Conference USA for several years until she moved to the Pac-12 last season.
NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said in a statement, “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. 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.”
While in the development program, she worked four NFL preseason games (which is how we have a photo with her wearing an NFL hat) under referees John Parry, Jerome Boger, John Hussey, and Carl Cheffers. She was a line judge in the Alliance of American Football in their 2019 abbreviated season and in the XFL in their 2020 abbreviated season. In the XFL, she was one of six women, which ensured every XFL game had at least one woman officiating on the field.
In addition to her officiating duties, Chaka is a health and physical education teacher in Virginia Beach, Va.