Erick McNair

For over a century, the NFL has captivated fans with its gripping on-field performances. But beyond the lights and glory, many untold stories have remained in the shadows. This month, we shine a light on two women who persevered against all odds to break barriers as the first females in their NFL coaching and officiating roles—Jennifer King and Maia Chaka. Their stories, set against the backdrop of a sport steeped in tradition and masculinity, are not just accounts of personal triumph but beacons of progress, symbolizing a significant shift towards inclusivity and diversity in professional football. 

Maia Chaka: The Educator with a Vision 

 Born in Rochester, New York, Maia Chaka’s journey is one of remarkable transitions, from an influential educator to making NFL history as its first Black female on-field official. A graduate of Edison Career & Technology High School and Norfolk State University, Chaka embarked on a career aimed at molding young minds as a health and physical education teacher in Virginia Beach.  

With over 14 years at Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Chaka dedicated her life to the empowerment and development of at-risk students. She views her high-profile promotion to the NFL as a teachable moment for her students, telling USA TODAY Sports, “What I want them to get out of it is, No. 1, you see somebody that you engage with every day make it to the highest level. That should be motivation for you. It’s really important that they have representation right in front of them.”  

Her approach to education, characterized by fostering self-esteem, academic achievement, and stepping outside comfort zones, reflects her belief in the transformative power of representation and mentorship. Through initiatives like G.E.M.S. (Girls with Empowering Minds and Spirits) and the Achievable Dream Academy, Chaka has not only been an educator but also a catalyst for positive change in the lives of her students. 

Parallel to her educational career, Chaka’s love for football guided her to the world of officiating, starting with high school games in Virginia in 2007. Her journey from officiating the Virginia State High School Championship Game in 2009 to joining Conference USA as a Division I football official in 2011 showcased her exceptional skill and tenacity. Her officiating prowess was further recognized when she joined the NFL’s Officiating Development Program in 2014, a pivotal step towards her historic appointment in the league. In 2021, Chaka shattered a significant barrier, becoming the first Black woman to officiate an NFL game—a landmark achievement marking her entry into the annals of NFL history and paving the way for future generations of women in sports officiating. 

Jennifer King’s Journey from Multi-sport Athlete to NFL Coach 

First Black female assistant coach in the NFL

Jennifer King’s story is a narrative of ambition, excellence, and trailblazing leadership. Her athletic journey began at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she excelled both academically and as a standout basketball player. King’s prowess on the court transitioned into a successful coaching career, notably leading her team to a USCAA Division II National Championship. Her achievements in basketball underscored her strategic acumen and ability to inspire, traits that seamlessly transferred to her groundbreaking role in football. 

King’s passion for football led her from the basketball court to the football field, taking a significant step as an offensive assistant at Dartmouth College. This role highlighted her versatile coaching skills and set the stage for her historic journey in the NFL. Her time playing for the Women’s Football Alliance teams, including the D.C. Divas and the championship-winning New York Sharks, provided invaluable experience and insight into the intricacies of the game.  

King’s stint with the D.C. Divas was not just about personal accolades or on-field success; it was also a period of learning and leadership. Being part of a team with a strong winning tradition and a competitive culture allowed King to absorb valuable lessons in teamwork, strategy, and the mental toughness required to compete at the highest levels. These experiences have been instrumental in shaping King’s approach to coaching, emphasizing the importance of preparation, adaptability, and the cultivation of a winning mindset. 

In 2021, King became the first Black female assistant coach in the NFL, following a successful internship with the Washington Commanders. But King stresses that her role goes beyond being the “first”—it’s about showing young people from all backgrounds that with dedication and grit, you can achieve your dreams. She advises aspiring coaches, “Don’t let fear of failure stop you from following your passion. Go where you believe your skills and knowledge can be utilized, whether that’s in the NFL or elsewhere.” 

Jennifer King’s tenure with the Washington Commanders marked a historic milestone in the NFL, where she served as the first Black female full-time assistant coach. King’s pioneering work with the Commanders not only broke significant barriers within the NFL but also underscored her exceptional talent and dedication as a coach.  

Following her impactful stint with the Commanders, King transitioned to a new role with the Chicago Bears, bringing her trailblazing spirit and vast experience to one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.  Her journey from the Washington Commanders to the Chicago Bears represents more than a career move; it symbolizes the growing recognition of women’s contributions to professional football and the breaking down of long-standing barriers within the sport. 

Inspiring Future Generations 

Beyond their historic achievements in the NFL, Chaka and King have set new precedents for women in sports, challenging longstanding norms and opening doors for future generations. Their legacies, characterized by breaking barriers and setting benchmarks, continue to inspire and pave the way for aspiring athletes, coaches, and officials. 

Chaka and King’s contributions extend beyond their roles in the NFL. Their commitment to community empowerment, education, and leadership exemplifies the profound impact individuals can have when they transcend traditional boundaries. Through their pioneering achievements and off-field initiatives, they have demonstrated that leadership, coupled with vision, can effect meaningful change. 


The stories of Maia Chaka and Jennifer King illuminate the endless possibilities that arise when barriers are dismantled, and paths are paved for those who dare to dream.  Sponsored by the NFL, EVERFI’s 306: Black History course aims to cultivate understanding, encourage critical thinking, and foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity, much like the impact Chaka and King have had within professional football. As we celebrate their achievements and the transformative power of their narratives, we are reminded of the importance of perseverance, leadership, and the pursuit of equality. By spotlighting these trailblazers, we not only acknowledge their contributions to the NFL but also underscore the significance of creating opportunities that champion diversity and inspire future generations to break barriers in every field of endeavor. 

Click here to access and download EVERFI’s Black History Toolkit and take the first step towards creating a more inclusive and empowering educational experience for students everywhere. 



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NFL. (2021, September 13). NFL announces Maia Chaka as the first black female on-field official [Video]. YouTube. 

NFL. (2021, February 2). Washington Football Team Coach Jennifer King, former Raiders CEO Amy Trask on changing the game [Video]. YouTube. 

NFL. (2022, February 17). Weekend Warm Up |  YouTube. 

Farrington, Dana. (2021, September 13). Maia Chaka becomes 1st black woman to officiate NFL game. NPR. 

Rhoden, E. (2020, January 15). Watch: Jennifer King talks historic NFL run, motivation and more. Essence. 

Frankenberry, Jami. (N.D.). Meet Maia Chaka: The Virginia Beach teacher who became the NFL’s first Black female referee. AOL. 

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Weinman, G. (2021, November 5). Jennifer King among 100 most influential Black women in America. Sports Illustrated. 


About the Author: 

Erick, a Senior Manager on the Customer Marketing team at EVERFI, holds a master’s degree in Sports Management from Georgetown University. With over a decade of experience in the sports and media sector, Erick has cultivated a deep-seated passion for making a meaningful difference in marginalized or underrepresented communities. Before joining EVERFI, Erick worked for Events DC, Washington, DC’s Sports & Convention Authority. He now supports EVERFI’s sports partnerships team, spearheading marketing and event initiatives that engage students around critical topics including character education, mental wellness, and STEM.