Part of the job of an NFL referee is anonymity. If nobody knows you’re there, chances are great that you are doing things well and the game is moving along smoothly. This is one of those rare cases when a name and a face are important in the referee department.
Today reports the NFL has just made Maia Chaka its first Black female official. After a length process, Chaka is realizing her dream.
"It didn't really hit me until just now," Chaka said, via TODAY. "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."
Back in 2014, Chaka, as well as Sarah Thomas, joined 19 other referees for the NFL Officiating Development Program.
Thomas would go on to make history as the first female official when she joined the league the next year. She also has the distinction of being the first female to officiate a Super Bowl when she oversaw February’s game.
For Chaka, her journey began before the NFL came calling. According to TODAY, she first started with high school football in 2006 and eventually worked her way up to calling games for Conference USA and the Pac-12.
Chaka’s story is wonderfully told in a 2014 Virginia-Pilot piece that profiles the moment she discovered she would enter the prestigious NFL officiating program.
At that time, the teacher at Renaissance Academy was humbled by the opportunity. Seven years ago she had the following to say.
“I was speechless," she told the Virginia-Pilot at the time. "I know some officials who have been working pretty hard their whole life and they haven't reached the level that I've gotten to. I was just really honored that I was thought that highly of as an official."
She has taken the dream a huge leap forward.
That’s not all of the news to celebrate this coming weekend. ESPN reports the NBA All-Star Game this Sunday will feature a nice moment of inclusion and representation.
On the court, the people with the whistles will all have graduated from historically Black colleges and universities. It represents a first for the association.
As we previously mentioned, the very nature of holding an exhibition game during a pandemic has been polarizing. However, the league is doing what it can to infuse the proceedings with goodwill and purpose.
To that end, the event will not only raise awareness and support for HBCUs but also offer $2.5 million in funds to these institutions as well as the need to improve access to covid-19 care and vaccines.
NBA official Courtney Kirkland, who will be on duty for the game, explained to ESPN the significance behind the decision.
"It means opportunity," Kirkland said. "To show and prove that we can do this craft. For many years before, it was believed that we couldn't do this craft.”
We are used to lambasting any sports official. Their recognition is relegated to the times we don’t agree with their assessments.
But so many have worked tirelessly to realize their dream for what is often a thankless job. And for Chaka and NBA officials like Kirkland, Tom Washington and Tony Brown, they are finally getting the recognition they deserve.