Meet Danita Johnson from D.C. United, the first female president of the Black MLS
In the 26-year history of Major League Soccer, no black person had ever assumed responsibility as a club’s president of business operations. That changed in December when D.C. United announced the hiring of Danita Johnson, a long-term permanent sports manager who helps professional teams improve their work culture.
Johnson, who previously lived in Washington, DC, is aware of the pride and passion that United fans have for black and red. With the eye-catching Audi Field across from Nationals Park, this marks a new era for both the club and the front office.
While Johnson will always have the “first” distinction associated with her name in that capacity, the North Carolina native will certainly not be the last. Taking on such a role with high expectations is no stranger to the former President and Chief Operating Officer of the Los Angeles Sparks. However, being the face of a franchise in a league that isn’t exactly celebrated for its racial diversity is of another importance. As she prepares for her first responsible year, Johnson also thought about what such a promotion means to her, especially in this racist climate.
“Personally, it shows the progress that is being made in so many industries,” Johnson told Emox News. “We have always pushed for acceptance in the world of sport. My position is another example of that. It drives the football game forward in America. This part is very exciting for me and I am very proud of it knowing what work I do and my team can achieve every day, this is of great importance and can show the diverse leadership qualities companies can bring. “
As this nation continues to grapple with racial abuse incidents, black soccer players in particular have been given online vitriol from the same audience to quickly name their favorite athlete on a good day. Johnson is no stranger to addressing troll hatred.
“At this point, it’s beyond the sport,” said Johnson. “It’s not about hating the players, but rather reflecting on the upbringing of the person who spits out the disrespect. As a club, we should definitely focus on the interests of the player. How can we set an example to end this to put? ” The insults? By being clubs that represent diversity and working in our communities to create safe spaces for people to have these difficult discussions and facilitate change. Our efforts need to speak to demographics not just in Washington but across the MLS as well. We have work to do, but we will get there. “
Lessons from the sparks
While at the Sparks, Johnson helped launch the annual # WeAreWomen campaign, an initiative celebrating women and young girls in the Los Angeles area who share a passion for empowering their communities and women of all ages and interests. The Sparks saw ticket sales grow 50% over Johnson’s six-year tenure, naming them WNBA Franchise of the Year in 2019.
Starting a new role in a completely different league is fraught with obstacles, of course, but there are many lessons Johnson learned in her time in the West that will be beneficial in her pursuit of the same success in the country’s capital.
“You have to find ways to get in touch with the fans. I think a lot about our support group and what they mean for our organization. Their passion is crucial for my success and, above all, for the success of the club. From a leadership perspective I am I will always look for ways in which we can bring about change, but there has to be a certain stability that creates a common cadence for the organization and the fans. Every market has its own process and you have to somehow accept that and this one Contribute part of the organization. “
Thriving under pressure and expectations for the first year
Johnson knows that all eyes will be on her as she works to build a team strong enough to challenge the best teams in the league for the title. On a personal level, she is aware of the responsibility she has to set an example for the next diverse face to run a million dollar franchise. When asked who some black leaders are to draw inspiration from, the 37-year-old said her answer was to focus on qualities rather than individuals.
“The first thing I look for is authenticity. Someone who can accept that they are still making mistakes, but who also hold themselves accountable. I am looking for motivation when it comes to taking care of themselves and their family. Me seek voices that positively advance this narrative, there are so many phenomenal women out there who make space for themselves by helping others forge their own destiny.
“My career has been so unpredictable but also very rewarding. When I moved into the football world I thought, ‘This is the international game.’ The landscape changes completely when you look at it from that perspective. I’ve had so much support from the UK black soccer community offering themselves as resources and it’s amazing to see such encouragement in such a short amount of time. I know that the standards are high, but that’s what makes it so exciting.
What people can expect at the start of the season on April 3rd, Johnson confirmed that it will create a diverse environment based on positivity and a strong work ethic. Although the conversations will be internal, the actions will be publicly and fervently recognized.
With a strong front office and even more security from colleagues in Los Angeles and beyond, the more she thinks about her debut season, the more Johnson believes she made the right decision to “look for new things.” “.
“Especially this year we had to stagnate in our local movement. But that does not mean that we have to stagnate in our life movement.”
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