History was made within week one of the 2021 NFL season.
Maia Chaka became the first Black woman in history to officiate an NFL game. She officiated her first game between the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers on Sept. 12. Chaka is the third on-field female official in the NFL, along with Shannon Easton, who was the first woman to officiate an NFL game, and Sarah Thomas, the first permanent female game official.
“It’s a privilege that I’ve been chosen to represent women and women of color in the most popular sport in America,” Chaka said in an NFL Instagram post.
According to Syracuse news, Chaka was born in her family’s home in Rochester, New York, where her mother still lives. She played football as a child and basketball at Edison Tech High School in Rochester, New York before attending Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, New York.
In 2006, she received a bachelor’s degree in education at Norfolk State University. She became a teacher in health and physical education at Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach the same year, winning teacher of the year honors for her work with special education students.
Chaka began officiating high school football games during her time in Virginia Beach. She went on to officiate in the NCAA’s Pac-12 conference, Conference USA and Alliance of American Football in 2019.
“That’s when I knew it was possible and attainable that I could become an NFL official,” Chaka said in a Democrat & Chronicle article.
She entered the NFL’s Officiating Development Program in 2014, a program created to give opportunities to the college-level officials seeking the role as an NFL official. According to the NFL, the development program gives officiating prospects an opportunity to see how in-game officials facilitate a game to prepare them for the position.
The NFL announced on March 5 that it was adding Chaka to the roster of game officials for the 2021 season. Due to COVID-19, Chaka was back in the classroom teaching as she was forced to adapt to the pandemic. She successfully did so while balancing the weight of helping her family and preparing for her NFL debut.
“Anything is possible,” Chaka said in the Democrat & Chronicle article. “Rochester has so many stories of people who could never get it together. I almost became one of those people. I just knew what I wanted to do. I want young kids to understand that you have to be able to find your purpose in life, and you have to fight to have success, no matter how many obstacles you have to overcome.”