SportsBeyond the Roster


First Black woman to serve as full-time NFL referee 'wasn't expecting it' and 'went nuts' over news

'I jumped up, I threw everything up in the air. I ran around my house'
Maia Chaka
Posted at 1:21 PM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 11:28:30-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Maia Chaka, the first Black woman hired by the NFL to serve as a full-time on-field official, said she was surprised and overjoyed when she learned she got the job.

"So it was very shocking and I wasn't expecting it at all," Chaka said. "I was just hanging out, you know, in my house and phone rings around 9:15 p.m. I noticed it's a you know, Wayne Mackie, the VP of Officiating, who I had a prior relationship with you know as a mentor-mentee."

Chaka said she thought Mackie was calling to discuss "some film or to shoot me a play, like, which really isn't out of the ordinary."

"So I pick up the phone, and he says, 'Maia, we still on for our meeting on Wednesday?' He's referring to our film review session when they're going to go over my performance in the Senior Bowl. I said, 'Yeah, we're still on.' And he tells me, 'Well, you have a lot of work ahead of you."

Chaka said she was stumped and asked Mackie what he meant.

"And he tells me, 'Well, you're gonna have a lot of work ahead of you, because welcome to the National Football League,'" Chaka recalled. "And, I mean, I went nuts."

But Chaka was in such disbelief she said that she at first wondered if she was being punked.

"It's the real deal. I'm serious. Welcome to the National Football League, Maya Shaka, line of scrimmage official," Chaka recalled Mackie saying.

Chaka, who is a native of Rochester, New York, said she was ecstatic.

"And I was just extremely happy. I jumped up, I threw everything up in the air," she said. "I ran around my house, did a couple laps, you know, around the crib and then came back and picked up the phone and had a conversation like a big girl."

Maia Chaka
Head linesman Maia Chaka makes a call during the second half of an NFL preseason football game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Returning to school was 'pandemonium'

Chaka, who is a health and PE teacher at Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach, said her students are very excited, told her she was "hashtag famous" and asked for her autograph.

"Today was the first day the students are actually back in school than they saw me, so it was just like pandemonium a little bit," Chaka explained. "I was just getting rushed. You know, it was it was weird. But I think the biggest thing was prior to the kids actually returning, was just seeing their reactions."

The Norfolk State graduate said a coworker sent social media posts about her from some of her early students, who are now in their 30s.

"To see them grown up, and being productive members of society and letting... me know and letting the world know that I had, you know, something to do with that I contributed to their success," Chaka said "And you know, that's what I'm here for. And I'm, I'm happy to hear that."

Chaka trained with the NFL since 2014

Chaka was added to the league’s roster of game officials and will take the field when the 2021 season kicks off this fall.

Chaka has been training with the NFL since 2014, and has officiated games in the NCAA’s Pac-12 and Conference USA. She’s also officiated at the professional level in the XFL, according to NBC News.

Chaka told NBC News that she hopes her new job shows her students that "if you have a passion for something or you have the drive for something, don’t let it hold you back just because you think that something may give you some type of limitation."

"Work hard, and always, always, always follow your dreams," she said.

When she steps on the field later this year, Chaka it will just be another game.

"Hopefully, it won't feel like any other game I've been in -- and I'm not trying to downplay the moment -- but as officials, we're always taught to never treat one game like it's bigger than the other," Chaka explained. "You know, it doesn't matter if it's Pop Warner or its high school. And I'm talking that jazz now, but I know as soon as I get on the field and the lights are bright, and you know the crowd is loud, if they do have fans this year, I know it's a different story."

Chaka said she has to approach that first game as if it is no different than what she has already done.

"And at the end of the day, it's just football," Chaka said. "And if I do what I need to do in the off season to prepare, all will go well."

Chaka on Sarah Thomas: 'My hat's off to her'

Chaka’s hiring continues the NFL’s push to diversify its officiating crews. Chaka follows in the footsteps of Sarah Thomas — the league’s first full-time female official. In February, Thomas became the first woman to officiate in a Super Bowl.

Chaka said she has known Thomas since they worked in Conference USA.

"She had already been there three years prior to me. And so as soon as I got the call, and they got when that I was being hired in a Conference USA, she was one of the first officials that called me up and reached out to me," Chaka said.

Chaka called their conversations "really meaningful."

"I'm appreciative of that," she said. "I'm also appreciative of her being the first woman to be hired in. Because I can only imagine the type of scrutiny and the things that she's gone through... My hat's off to her because I can only imagine what her first few years like and get into that Super Bowl that rose to the Super Bowl was very tough."