2 Black women make history, become leaders of DC sports teams

Danita Johnson and Amber Nichols have paid their dues in professional sports, and now both women are making history with D.C. teams.

Johnson is the first Black president of a Major League Soccer team — D.C. United — and is the third woman in the league’s 26-year history to serve in this role.

Nichols is the general manager of the Washington Wizards’ G League team, the Capital City Go-Go, and is only the second woman to serve as the general manager in the NBA development league’s history.

Johnson and Nichols have different leadership responsibilities within their respective teams, but both started in professional sports in the challenging role of season ticket sales. Along with endless cold calls to prospective ticket buyers, there were long nights making sure that the games they were selling tickets to were satisfying experiences for their customers.

In her professional journey, Johnson stayed on the business side. Her success in ticket sales with the Washington Mystics led to promotions with other WNBA teams. Most recently, she was the president and chief operating officer for the Los Angeles Sparks.

United was attracted to Johnson in part because the Sparks were the 2019 WNBA franchise of the year, and the league’s marketing and ticket organization of the year.

“It’s a whole new world and I am very ready for this,” said Johnson. “I’ve put in a lot of work to get here and I’m still learning my craft, but I feel like I’m in a position to help elevate this organization.   I’m thrilled for the future that we have ahead of us and to be at the helm, and to help lead D.C. United into the next generation is huge.”

Nichols played basketball at the University of Richmond, and her career goal was to find a way to work on the player evaluation side of the business. While working in ticket sales with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, Nichols connected with a client who knew basketball coach and executive Kevin Eastman, who played and coached at the University of Richmond.

That bond helped Nichols: Eastman wrote a letter of recommendation to Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards general manager who was assistant general manager at the time. Nichols was brought on board with the Capital City Go-Go as an intern and was elevated to director of basketball operations. Now she is the team’s general manager.

“I get to do basketball every day,” said Nichols. “My passion is waking up and thinking of ways, and with what players, can I help the Go-Go, and ultimately the Wizards, be better basketball teams. And the Wizards have made me feel at home. They asked about my family. They asked about me. They cared about my development and growth.”

Both Johnson and Nichols are about getting their jobs done and continuing to live out their dreams. Both women have achieved career goals, and both understand they are role models for other Black women and girls who have similar dreams.

“The environments are changing in sports,” said Nichols. “Women are being appreciated for their knowledge and they are being chosen because they are the best person for the job. It is my responsibility to do my best in this role so that other women can opportunities in leadership roles.”

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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