"An opportunity to play," said Eddie Robinson.
The legendary Eddie Robinson told a reporter these words when asked, "What would it take for Doug Williams to make it in the National Football League?" prepared for the 1978 NFL Draft. Grambling's prized football star got his chance in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft. He led Tampa Bay to an NFC Championship Game and later won Super Bowl XXII for Coach Joe Gibbs at Washington. Gibbs was the only NFL scout to travel and meet Williams in person for the Buccaneers. He recommended for the organization to draft him - they did.
Williams got his opportunity to play. The rest is history.
As we fast forward to 2021, Maia Chaka may never play in a Super Bowl, but she very well could officiate one.
First, she had to be given the opportunity that many HBCU graduates desired years ago.
HISTORY IN BALTIMORE
I reviewed an NFL flip card in preparation for the New Orleans Saints versus Baltimore Ravens preseason game on August 14. After reading through the players on the special teams unit, then at the very bottom, a familiar name caught my attention. It was in the officiating crew. Then it hit me. I was about to witness a historical moment in the NFL. Maia Chaka was about to officiate her first game as a line judge. Her number was #100. I was proud of her, Black women, and HBCU alumni represented in various NFL positions.
I wondered how she was handling her first live-action as an official. A source close to Chaka shared, "she felt confident, comfortable and well prepared. She’s been working NFL preseason games since 2014, so this was familiar territory."
She became another HBCU graduate allowed an opportunity to break a 102-year-old barrier that existed in the National Football League.
DOUG WILLIAMS ON MAIA CHAKA
I received a call from the Super Bowl-winning quarterback and proceeded to ask his thoughts on Chaka becoming the first Black woman on-field official.
Williams told me he had an eye on Chaka. One day she trained with the other developmental officials at the Washington Football Team facility for three or four days. "We got to give her credit. She broke the color barrier. And nobody can say that but her."
I wanted to know how he felt about Chaka's accomplishment. "I feel elated. They are giving her an opportunity!" There it is again — opportunity.
Doug Williams echoed the sentiments of his mentor. "Now she's the first Black woman [official]. You know what makes that so much different?" I responded, "What?" "Just think about the National Football League, and as long as they have been playing football and winning football, it's never been anything but, "he's a winning quarterback." But, as soon as I played, it became the first black quarterback. So, it's only fitting to say that she's the first black woman official. And, anything after that, it's gravy." Gravy, yes, gravy. Meaning, we will see more Maia Chaka's on the sidelines officiating professional football games.
PASSION, PREPARATION, INTELLIGENCE
Maia spoke in a video about how determined and prepared someone must be to take on the role as an NFL official. Throughout her career in the Virginia Beach Schools system and calling college games, the Norfolk State graduate was more than detailed oriented — she's intelligent.
"She's smart. She's really smart. She wouldn't be out there if she wasn't. I promise you that," noted Williams.
Chaka's passion for football began as a young girl playing tackle football with the boys in her neighborhood. Years later, the Norfolk State graduate will have a watchful eye on NFL players as she patrols the sidelines.
Williams is aware of the rigors of an official and offered this advice, "just do you. Do your job, and you know you're good at what you do. Do the job, and somebody's going to see you. She's been scrutinized...because the reputation of those officials is at stake."
He's been a true professional since entering the NFL in 1978 and made many an HBCU graduate proud. Like Williams, Chaka's pioneering efforts take on a special meaning to young Black women who also have a passion for football.
The possibilities are endless to have a future role in the NFL. Today, the league is hiring women coaches, trainers, and executives.
Chaka's mentor Wayne Mackie, the Vice President of Officiating, had the honor to welcome Maia to the NFL. "Well, you have a lot of work ahead of you."
Williams was a pioneer, and he likes the pioneering spirit in Maia Chaka. Will she disappoint. I don't believe so. Like Williams, HBCU alums will be keeping close tabs on her eventual success in Zebra stripes.
Moreso, I don't believe she will disappoint the HBCU family.
"She wanted to do well and make her community proud. Being chosen for her skills and ability but also being able to represent for women and women of color in the most popular sport in America is an honor and responsibility that she’s well prepared to handle," from a source on Chaka.
READ MORE HBCU NEWS
- Maia Chaka Officiates Saints vs. Ravens Preseason Game
- Maia Chaka Becomes the First Black Female Official
- Doug Williams 'Elated' for Maia Chaka's Opportunity as First Black Female NFL Official
- FedEx Donates and NASCAR Honors HBCUs
- HBCU Conference Commissioners Will Participate in 'NFL x HBCU 2021 Open House'
- AFLAC Partners with Deion Sanders for HBCUs