Sports activities Illustrated and Empower Onyx are placing the highlight on the varied journeys of Black girls throughout sports activities—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and extra—within the sequence, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
When Danita Johnson was introduced as the subsequent president of enterprise operations for D.C. United in December 2020, switching fields took on deeper which means. Johnson was coming from the WNBA, after 5 nonconsecutive years with the Los Angeles Sparks. And though the expectations ran excessive in that group and the broader struggle for followers in L.A.’s super-ambitious sports activities market was fierce, the panorama in Washington has gotten fairly intense, too. Prior to now 4 years alone town has celebrated the Capitals lifting the 2018 Stanley Cup, the Mystics claiming the ’19 WNBA championship and the Nationals prevailing within the World Collection later that yr. And though the Commanders have but to essentially get in on these profitable methods, it solely takes the potential of a playoff run to get followers speeding again on aspect.
How does Johnson compete with that? “We’re a storied franchise, too,” she says. “We’re really one of many very first groups named after the 1994 World Cup, when MLS was based. We received the primary MLS Cup and several other shields all through our historical past. We had Wayne Rooney on our roster in 2019 and a few success on the pitch on this previous yr. It’s an enormous factor for us to proceed to boost the bar.”
If Johnson appears as much as that job, it’s as a result of huge challenges are nothing new for her. Along with her appointment to D.C. United, she turned the primary Black president of an MLS membership and the third lady ever to occupy such a job. And if she appears unintimidated by United’s native sports activities rivals, it’s as a result of that is her second tour within the Washington space. She got here up within the sports activities enterprise sport with Monumental Sports activities & Leisure—the guardian firm of the Wizards, Mystics and Capitals. Which is to say she appreciates the nice potential viewers development, significantly inside the space’s thriving Black neighborhood. “If you have a look at the successes of Atlanta United and Austin FC and a number of the golf equipment which have come on-line in recent times, they’ve carried out an outstanding job,” she says. “For us, it’s at all times a spotlight not solely on our African-American market, however the range of D.C. We’re a hub for the world.”
And regardless of assuming this new duty in the course of the pandemic, Johnson hasn’t been a lot delayed from making her mark. She helped set the stage for Howard College to host a regular home football game at D.C. United’s Audi Subject. And he or she brokered a landmark take care of NBC Sports activities Washington and TeleXitos for all of D.C. United’s matches to be broadcast in each English and Spanish. These efforts don’t simply go a great distance towards minting new followers; they may doubtlessly funnel younger gamers to D.C. United’s camps, clinics and perhaps even its youth academy sometime. The hope is to construct on the success of gamers like Kevin Paredes, the versatile teenage academy prospect that D.C. United garnered a record $7.35 million transfer fee in January. “He began with our membership when he was 13, and now he’s enjoying abroad,” Johnson says.
Astonishingly, Johnson had comparatively few experiences in soccer earlier than taking the D.C. United job. A Fayetteville, N.C., native, Johnson joined her highschool squad for a season largely to remain in form for basketball, her foremost sport. At Monumental Sports activities, she led the ticket gross sales and repair division for the Mystics in 2013 and ’14. In between stints with the Sparks she spent a yr with the Clippers, serving to to launch their farm staff in Ontario, Calif.— a minor league alternative that got here a decade after Johnson had labored in neighborhood relations for improvement squads in Bakersfield and Fayetteville.
After a stint within the Phoenix Suns gross sales division from 2007 via ’09, the Western Carolina sports activities advertising and marketing alumna directed ticket gross sales for the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock—a championship-winning franchise that was beginning over in a virgin market. “I cherished that a part of my life and profession,” she says. “There’s nothing like placing a franchise collectively within the very starting. I used to be there when Nolan Richardson and Marion Jones were there. To have a fanbase that had by no means skilled the WNBA at my fingertips, to essentially have the ability to share the story of the league and what it meant and have individuals purchase into it and see a neighborhood wrap its arms round it was a very distinctive time. Numerous arduous work. Numerous devoted hours. However a great time.”
And Main League Soccer, whereas rising, remains to be nowhere close to as huge within the U.S. as soccer or baseball. But it surely’s nonetheless a a lot greater taking place than the WNBA, which survives on the thinnest of margins. The place groups in that league hire enviornment house in the summertime, D.C. United’s Audi Stadium is barely 4 years outdated and, final fall, opened a state-of-the-art follow complicated. Along with these amenities, D.C. United ranks among the many most valued MLS franchises with an estimated value of $630 million, according to Sportico, and loads of room to develop much more.
Which is to say Johnson is in a perfect place to do the very factor most who come to D.C. to take workplace seemingly can’t after a sure level—and that’s to proceed dreaming huge. “I feel I received to stretch my creativeness in numerous methods once I was within the WNBA,” she says. “As a result of it was like how do you get previous all these boundaries? Even now, once I have a look at the place we’re in D.C., we’ve got a number of groups proper throughout the road from Nats park, it’s like, How can we present up? However our possession group is devoted to the sport and its worldwide attraction. I could be within the workplace and play soccer backwards and forwards with someone. You may take it nearly in every single place you go. The truth that it unifies the world and so many backgrounds in so some ways, offers alternative to strive new issues and push even more durable.”
Andrew Lawrence is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a various multi-channel platform celebrating the tales and transformative energy of sports activities for Black girls and ladies.