The rise of BLACK women making history and acquiring leadership positions in sports was a huge theme in 2020 and continues as we bring in the new year.
Not sure who missed this watershed moment from a few weeks back, but The DC United of Major League Soccer fame has named Danita Johnson the club’s President Of Business Operations.
This appointment makes her the first Black president in the 28-year history of MLS.
Danita Johnson, a 2005 graduate of the Sports Management program, is now the president of business operations for the DC United soccer team, making her the first Black president of a Major League Soccer club!
— WCU Alumni Association (@AlumniWcu) January 9, 2021
Being in a leadership role isn’t new to Johnson as she’s held numerous positions across many different sports. She’s led departments for professional basketball teams which include the Fayetteville Patriots, Washington Mystics, Los Angeles Clippers, and most recently the Los Angeles Sparks, where she served as President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) for two years.
During her time with the Sparks, she led several impactful initiatives including a busing program. The program transported individuals from underserved communities to Sparks games and the #WeAreWomen campaign which really helped boost fan attendance.
“I’ve learned a lot from my time with the WNBA, especially the Los Angeles Sparks organization,” Johnson said in a club statement. “It is my belief that establishing a winning culture off the field impacts every aspect of the business, from fan interactions to community engagement, and I am committed to doing just this for one of the most storied and decorated clubs in American soccer history.”
Johnson a North Carolina native, and graduate of Western Carolina University, believes the culmination of her experiences in sports management has helped her build a solid foundation to better advance and advise franchises.
She understands the in and outs of business and building a franchise; from ticket sales, marketing, public relations, and community relations. In this role Johnson will spearhead business operations for the club’s second-division team in Loudon (Loudon United).
A leader with a legacy of success set to usher in a new era for D.C. United and @MLS.
— dcunited (@dcunited) December 22, 2020
She’ll also get to diversify the franchise, organize events at Audi Field, while also developing strategies to evolve fan engagement and secure diverse sponsorships for the club.
Johnson’s hiring came after the Boston Red Sox hired Bianca Smith as a minor league coach, making Smith the first BLACK woman to coach in MLB’s 151-year history.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) January 5, 2021
The strength of a BLACK woman is amazing and to finally see them getting opportunities in a male-dominated business and world, is just wonderful.
Smith will serve as a minor league coach within the organization, based at the club’s player development facility in Fort Myers, Florida, and will work mainly with position players, according to MLB.com.
“I think it’s a great opportunity also to just kind of inspire other women who are interested in this game,” Smith told MLB Network. “This is not something I thought about when I was younger and I kind of fell into it being an athlete, so I’m excited to get that chance to show what I can do.”
Most recently Smith was an assistant baseball coach and hitting coordinator at Carroll University, a private liberal arts college in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Her resume also includes work at various MLB youth academies and an internship with the Major League Baseball corporate office.
The Boston Red Sox, the last MLB team to integrate in 1959, has a longstanding reputation as being a racially intolerant town. There’s been a documented history of Black players being called the N-word and having peanuts thrown at them as recently as Adam Jones in 2017.
The trading of MVP and World Series champion Mookie Betts (the best AA player in the game) and former MLB player Torii Hunter revealing that he had a no-trade clause to Boston because he experienced repeated derogatory racial abuse from the fans, didn’t do anything to help the city’s rep.
Maybe Smith’s hire will.
Over the past decade, the Sewickley-born 29-year-old has served in myriad capacities including videography, helping out in press boxes, working in front offices and she’s been an assistant athletic director, among other things.
According to the post-gazette.com, in many cases, those were the tasks Smith was explicitly hired to do, only finding her way to the baseball field after cold-emailing a coach at the three colleges she’s worked for or slowly expanding her role to include on-field baseball work.
“Several of my positions were positions that didn’t exist until I got there,” Smith said. “And not only did I help create them, but I expanded them based on what I believed I brought value and how I could actually help.”
The relentless determination, work ethic, and undeniable talent exhibited by these women can’t be ignored with a short blurb. They have shattered glass ceilings that at one time appeared insurmountable. When a hire like this is made and that hire is truly given the autonomy and power that the position requires, large-scale changes can occur within the culture of an organization, leading to a newfound respect for diversity of ideas.