- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

For Sheila Johnson, setting an example means making sure there are enough role models to go around.

Mrs. Johnson, president and general manager of the Washington Mystics basketball team, has been named Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events. She and two others will be honored May 24 at an award luncheon in New York.

To Mrs. Johnson, the award is another opportunity to further the development of women’s sports.

“I know that I’ve made a huge step as far as women’s ownership of teams,” she said. “Hopefully, I will be able to reinforce my beliefs of why women’s sports are important.”

Women in Sports and Events was started in 1993 by Sue Rodin, president of her own sports marketing firm and agent to Olympic swimmer Jenny Thompson as well as soccer players Julie Foudy and Carla Overbeck, as a way to connect women in the sports and entertainment industries.

“It’s about empowering women and helping them in their career path,” Ms. Rodin said. “It’s women helping women.”

With the WNBA about to begin its 10th season Saturday, Ms. Rodin said, Mrs. Johnson was the perfect candidate for the award.

“She is the No. 1 fan and really has great passion for what she’s doing and is so involved with every aspect of the team, which is tremendous,” Ms. Rodin said.

Mrs. Johnson, who took over as president of the Mystics in July, is focused on using the team to improve the community. Last week, she announced the creation of the Washington Mystics Foundation, which will focus on combating childhood obesity.

Notable among the foundation’s future projects is the Washington Mystics Hip Hop Forum, which Ms. Johnson hopes will use celebrity hosts to educate children about issues such as teen violence, racism and HIV/AIDS.

Mrs. Johnson’s experience in youth education predates her involvement with the Mystics. As a professional violinist, she founded Youth Strings in Action, a group of young musicians, and in 1984 took them to Jordan to represent the United States.

“Everyone was so impressed with the kids,” Mrs. Johnson said. Three years later, she was asked to start a violin school in Jordan. The school opened in 1989, and Mrs. Johnson received recognition from King Hussein for her efforts.

In 1990, she was named executive vice president of Black Entertainment Television, which she co-founded in 1979 with Robert Johnson, now her ex-husband. During her time at BET, she created “Teen Summit,” a TV show dedicated to youth issues.

With the Mystics, Mrs. Johnson hopes to draw attention to the example set by the team’s players.

“We’ve got a lot of great role models,” she said. “The problem is the media does not acknowledge these women.”

Of course, producing wins will help to raise the team’s profile.

“There’s an energy this year that I have never seen before,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I just want the community to know that I care, and the team really cares.”

Mrs. Johnson, 57, lives in Arlington and Middleburg, Va. She has two children: Brett, 16 and Paige, 20.

— Walter Frick

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