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Maia Chaka: The First Black Female NFL Referee


For the longest time, women were a rare sight to see in sports, whether on or off the field. This happened for various reasons, and lack of representation was one of them.

Today, the sporting world is working to overturn this pale shadow by bringing women on board. 

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The National Football League has done this by bringing on board Maia Chaka its first-ever black female NFL referee. Let’s find out more about her.

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Who Is Maia Chaka?

Maia Chaka: The First Black Female NFL Referee
Maia Chaka, the first NFL referee. Image Source: Instagram licensed under CC BY 2.0

Maia Chaka was born on 18 April 1982  in Rochester, New York. She attended Edison Career & Technology High School in 2000 and later attended Norfolk State University

She kick-started her career as a health and physical teacher at Virginia Beach Central Academy in 2006. A year later, her journey as a football referee started. 

Chaka worked on games at Virginia State High School Championship games before she transitioned to Division 1 football and then college football.  

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When Did Maia Chaka Start Officiating NFL Games?

Maia Chaka started out as a back judge during an NFL game between Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots in 2014.

This was after she joined the NFL’s officiating development program, during which she was mentored by NFL officials and worked on different game areas.

Before her groundbreaking achievement, she worked as a head linesman at the college football level for the Pac-21 games, a collegiate athletics conference.

Seven years after her debut, and 102 years after the start of the NFL, Maia Chaka made history by becoming the first black female NFL referee. This is after she officiated the game between Carolina Panthers and New York Jets as a line judge.

In an official video released by the NFL, the Rochester Native said she was proud to have been chosen to represent people of colour. And also women in the most popular sport in America. 

“When I step on the field for the first time as an official, it’s going to be a proud moment. It’s a proud moment for myself, my family, the committee, students and coworkers,” Maia told the NFL Media.

“This historic moment is an honour and a privilege that I have been chosen to represent women of colour in the most popular sport in America, proving that I can defy the odds and pretty much master the craft of the sport that I didn’t play but I have the passion for.” She continued.

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Further, she hopes it will help inspire other people to pursue their passions no matter how challenging. 

“Hopefully, that gives somebody else some inspiration and empowers them to step outside the box and do something different overcome the odds and overcome.” She added in her video to the NFL.  

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Praise For Maia Chaka’s Resilience

It’s not easy for anyone, let alone black women in sports, to get opportunities like Maia Chaka. This is the reason why she is highly praised for her determination 

NFL Executive Vice President of football operations Troy Vincent described her as a trailblazer. He further stated that her “years of hard work have finally paid off as she received a spot on NFL officials team.

Jacob Scott, the principal of Edison Tech, where she studied, also talked about Maia’s determination and resilience. 

“She’s always been motivated and was extremely active when she was here at Edison.” He told Democratic & Chronicle.

Speaking to Democratic & Chronicle, Finger Lakes Community College head coach Bob Atwood described her as tenacious in her interactions. They interacted after Maia sent her a tape of herself working on a game when she was looking for teams to work with.

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Maia Chaka’s Awards

  • 2021: Orange Blossom Classic Breaking Barriers Award 
  • 2021: Black Enterprise 40 under 40 Class of 
  • 2021: ABC World News Person of the Week

The NFL is doing a lot of things right when it comes to inclusion and diversity. This is a huge step in having women participate in all areas of the game and letting the younger generation of women know that they can also achieve such heights.  

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