ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester native Maia Chaka was named the first Black woman official in NFL history, but had no idea a call was coming her way at 9:15 p.m. on a Monday night.
“At first, I thought I was getting punked,” Chaka explained. “When the call first came through, I thought it was review a few things or to just check in. and it ended up being ‘Welcome to the NFL!’ and I was just ecstatic, jumping up and down.”
Born and raised in the Flower City, her love of football began in the early 1990s as a young girl growing up off of Frost Avenue, west of the Genesee River. Chaka spent her days at the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester, running around with the boys, playing football all afternoon.
“That gave me a lot of confidence to step out and trying anything and not be afraid to fail,” said Chaka. “Growing up where I did made me tough, made a little rough around the edges.”
By the time she reached high school, Chaka was unable to find a tackle football league to continue playing at a competitive level. She graduated from Edison Tech in 2000 before enrolling at Norfolk State University for a degree in physical education.
As a student, she worked for the school’s student activities program, which included intramural sports. Chaka was tasked to schedule officials and line football the field, which helped her stay in touch with her favorite sport.
“I didn’t want to be a coach, so I said I’m going to give officiating a try,” said Chaka.
Chaka began officiating high school games in Virginia Beach before moving to Conference USA and PAC-12 games. In 2014, scouted for the NFL Officiating Development Program while coaching at the collegiate level. She was one of two women in the program, including Sarah Thomas, the first NFL’s first woman official.
Chaka feels officiating helps bring different kinds of people together from all different backgrounds because of everyone’s love of the game. She even learned country music while refereeing at the college level because it was something the guys around her would listen to at the field.
“In turn, they began to learn things about me, and my background.”
Women, especially women of color, face significant barriers to the sports world, but Chaka has always worked hard to earn the respect of the men around her.
“Hopefully I’m not the last one hired and that there will be more coming soon,” said Chaka. “I want to do everything I can to make sure more women follow what I did.”
“If they have a passion for something and they don’t mind working hard for it, go ahead and go for it as long as it doesn’t compromise your morals or values. You just want to make sure you’re making strong smart decisions and the decisions that you make get you respected. All the good attention will follow.”
According to CNN, officiating in Sunday’s New York Jets at Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina, Chaka is the third on-field female official in the NFL, joining Sarah Thomas, the first permanent female game official, and Shannon Eastin, who was the first woman to officiate an NFL game.