Maia Chaka becomes first Black woman to officiate NFL game

The 38-year-old is only the third woman in history to have an officiant title in the NFL.

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Maia Chaka made history on Sunday, Sept. 12, by becoming the first Black woman to officiate an NFL game.

It’s a feat that Chaka does not take lightly, telling football fans across the country in a video shared by the league via its Twitter account, “This historic moment to me is an honor and it’s a privilege that I’ve been chosen to represent women and women of color in the most popular sport in America.”

Chaka officiated the battle between the New York Jets at Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina. The history-making moment is paramount in more ways than one as she is only the third on-field female official in the NFL.

Sarah Thomas is the first permanent woman game official, followed by Shannon Eastin who was the first woman in history to officiate an NFL game. ​Burl Toler became the first Black official hired by the league way back in 1965.

Salt Lake Stallions v San Diego Fleet
Maia Chaka officiates while the Salt Lake Stallions and the San Diego Fleet play in the Alliance of American Football game on March 9, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/AAF/Getty Images)

Chaka has a background as a health and physical education teacher. But she’s not new to the professional sports arena. She was first introduced as part of the NFL’s Officiating Development Program in 2014, per CNN.

The program is designed to offer officiating prospects currently in the collegiate ranks “exposure to in-game experiences that NFL officials face, to determine if they have the ability to succeed.”

While working in the college world, Chaka’s tenure included a stint as a referee in the NCAA’s Pac-12 Conference and Conference USA. She also was a referee in the Alliance of American Football in 2019.

Chaka’s addition to the NFL roster was announced in March. For the 38-year-old mother, it’s a way to inspire others like her to get out of their comfort zones. She’s reportedly living by the mantra in all aspects, including the way she’s chosen to decorate her official office.

The Undefeated reports that Chaka has the words “hustle, grind, conquer, dominate” on a wall decal in her office. The report also notes that her childhood dream was to be the first woman in the NBA.

Sports runs deep in her blood, as she explained in her interview with The Undefeated that her uncle, Joe Echols, is a former Negro Leagues baseball player. Echols was also a head football coach at Morehouse College and Norfolk State. From there, he worked part-time as a scout for legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi.

Echols is also credited for helping expand NSU’s athletics department. The basketball arena was named after him in 1982. Echols died in 1977. His wife, Clara Echols, is Chaka’s natural aunt, whom Chaka cared for until her death in 2005 from complications of dementia.

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