“It didn’t really hit me until just now,” Chaka said Friday during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. “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.”
Since 2014, Chaka has participated in the NFL’s Officiating Development Program, in which the league works with college football officials to determine whether they have the ability to succeed in the professional ranks. The program’s referees work games during offseason minicamps and also officiate a preseason game. Chaka has been a football official since 2006, when she began her career at the high school level. In 2013, she and Sarah Thomas — who in 2015 became the NFL’s first female official and this year became the first woman to officiate in a Super Bowl — became the first pair of female officials to work the same college bowl game (the Fight Hunger Bowl between Washington and BYU).
“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, the NFL’s director of football operations, said in a league 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 told “Today” that she learned of her appointment Monday during a call with 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 got to be kidding me,’ because I’ve been at it for so long, I just never thought the day would come.”