Samantha Johnson on helping children repping black women
Samantha Johnson announced her retirement from professional football on June 28, 2019. Seventeen months later, the 29-year-old decided to put her boots back on and get back to the sport she has loved all her life. Although Johnson’s departure was brief, the time she spent during those months helped determine her real purpose: serving disadvantaged children.
Johnson’s accomplishments include stints at the National Women’s Soccer League clubs Chicago Red Stars and Utah Royals FC. Now the defender has gone international with the Australian W-League team Melbourne City. Regardless of where her career takes her, Johnson’s dedication to the lives of disadvantaged youth is thanks to her work at CASS | always be a priority BETTER.
The former USC Trojan spoke to Emox News about their decision to retire, the importance of black women speaking out and using football as a means of connecting with children in the US and Down Under.
Emox News: You mentioned in one ESPN Article that one of the reasons you returned to football was because it suited your purpose on and off the field. Can you talk more about how the combination of football and role model has positively impacted your return to the game for future players?
Samantha Johnson: I have been on a mission to advance children’s lives since I started my career, and I feel like very few really understand my engagement with them, especially the lives of children in my hometown Palmdale, California. My main focus is on improving education. During my five years in Chicago, I have been associated with various organizations and have truly learned how minority children with disabilities or behavioral disorders are thrown into a system that does not benefit them or give them the attention they deserve.
I use football as a vehicle to have conversations with them and find common ground. It is important to be consistent in setting this example and now that I am in Melbourne I have taken on the additional responsibility of looking after children who want to pursue careers in football. I definitely realized that there weren’t many players out there who looked like me, and over time you just get used to it. Now that we are much older and play at a professional level, we understand the infrastructure and are trying to change that.
YS: Your dedication to the game is very admirable and the decision to leave for the first time certainly wasn’t an easy one. Where do you find your source of strength when you are feeling mentally or physically drained?
SJ: Whether to retire or come back is not an easy decision to make. To be honest, gaming can get stressful and mentally taxing at times. It takes every ounce of you to show up with the same passion every day, and at some point you can’t pretend it’s you anymore. I left the sport because I was so in love with it that I felt I didn’t respect it at the same time. Not soccer itself, but the economic structure behind it didn’t give me what I put into it. I couldn’t keep showing up for training and pretending that everything would be fine if I felt different. That’s how I knew I was doing the right thing by walking away.
Coming back was easier, my mindset was clearer and I understood the intentions better both on and off the field and it was worth it. I won’t survive the sport, but I never want to feel like I’m taking advantage of it because I have so much love for it.
I find a lot of my motivation in the kids I work with and my plans to change the narrative behind the sport. I think I find it easier to stay motivated because I have so many intentions as to why I’m doing something. You can definitely look at the examples others have made in their professional lives to spark something inside you, but at the end of the day you need to be yourself and avoid comparisons too.
YS: As has been shown in recent years, when black women speak out against injustice, they are quickly shot down or ignored. How do you react to those who have made it their business to invalidate their words?
SJ: Things are developing before our eyes and the narrative is constantly changing. I can say one thing today and a certain group will love me, but if I comment on something that they disagree with tomorrow, another group will try to cancel me. I refuse to change my beliefs because it’s not considered mainstream. How I can trigger a conversation that translates into change is because I am consistent and true to myself. I refuse to be controlled by anyone else.
YS: We are seeing the impact of athletes using their voice and platform to inspire a new class of activists, especially when it comes to racial injustices. What do you say to those who continue to doubt your influence and also to black women who look up to you and still struggle to find their voice?
SJ: The world is so big with so many people and more who need help. It’s not like, “Oh, someone already said he was the voice of women empowerment, so I’m not going to.” Erase that mentality. Everyone influences everyone differently. You have to do what you want to do authentically. I know my goal is to improve the lives of children I meet during my career no matter where I play. Don’t pass the baton on to anyone else if that’s what your purpose is to be. Yours.
Pass Her the Mic is a series by Emox News that introduces black women at the intersection of sport and race and discusses various topics ranging from racial injustice to athletic activism.
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