Samantha Johnson is back and ready to get everything she can from the game she loves

In June 2019, Samantha Johnson surprisingly announced her retirement from professional soccer after starting eight matches for Utah Royals FC. “The decision to retire was the most authentic and heartbreaking thing for me to go through at the time,” Johnson told BGN. “I did not feel all of the sacrifice of being a pro soccer player was giving me the proper return on my investment into the game.”

“I love the game deeply and would never disrespect it. For me to feel miserable and go through training with no passion is not within my character. I was not willing to sacrifice my happiness even though I was fit to play physically.”

Last week, Johnson’s return to professional soccer was confirmed as she signed a contract with Melbourne City of the W-League in Australia. “The opportunity to come to Melbourne City came shortly after signing with my agent, Maggie Ntim, a few months ago,” she said. “I came out of retirement after a few conversations with my agent about aligning my purpose with my talent. So my story continues here at City and I am very grateful for the opportunity.”

“I have now figured out how to leverage my talent on the field to fulfill my purpose off the field. There are so many layers to the process but being backed by someone like Maggie, makes my job a lot easier. She understands what I want to achieve for communities and how I plan to impact the youth via education enhancement strategies.”

Obviously, her barrier-breaking agent has made a major impact on Samantha’s life and career in a short time. How did that business relationship begin? “I received a phone call from a good friend named Ayo. He and I connected after working within US Soccer earlier this year,” she explained. “He mentioned to me a woman I should meet and is looking to come to the women’s side of soccer as an agent. Based on her experience, she seemed perfect to try and get her connected with the minority players in the NWSL for more marketing opportunities.”

“The initial conversation was supposed to be about that, then it turned into her confessing she always wanted me to be her first female pro player that she represented. My response was literally, ‘oh well I’m retired so…’ A few conversations later she convinced me to come out of retirement. Our relationship is growing every day in the best way. We are so aligned in how we want to impact the world and the game. Our goal is to create pathways for the next generation in the game. I have no doubt we will do just that.”

Melbourne City will become the third W-League club on Johnson’s resume, in addition to Royals FC and the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL. “I absolutely love W League and being in Australia. I have nothing but respect for this league and country,” she explained. “I played my first year in 2014 and the league has only gotten better since. I enjoy the lifestyle off the field, cafes, coffees, and shopping at the thrift stores. I have made so many friends here over the years and have a great network. I am always grateful when I get an opportunity to come back to W League.”

While the W-League is where she will make her return to the sport, does Samantha have an eye on getting back to the NWSL? She answered, “I cannot speak on what may come for the future but I always work for opportunities that do not yet exist. Therefore, I am certain I will end up at a club that I’ve earned to be a part of. We shall see.”

No matter where the gifted central defender is playing, she will be making her mark off the pitch as an entrepreneur, too. “BETTER® is a brand I created to represent my youth impact programs and partnerships I have with various schools, sports organizations, and nonprofits,” Johnson said. “CASS is the name of my business that owns BETTER®. All of my programs are free for the kids. The wristbands are my way to keep the kids accountable when I am not around or they are not present in the programs.”

“The reminder to always strive to ‘be better’ despite adversity or temptation to do otherwise is my message to them. Simple but impactful and the kids seem to like the wristbands.”

Samantha is a part of a generation of world-class athletes that are doing far more than excelling at their sport. In recent years, NBA superstar LeBron James has trumpeted the phrase ‘More Than an Athlete’ to counter the idea that athletes should ‘stick to sports’ or ‘shut up and dribble’. Johnson finds that phrase interesting…

“LeBron has obviously been successful in promoting this narrative,” she said. “However, I don’t necessarily believe I am ‘More than an Athlete’. I am just that; an athlete, always and forever whether I kick a ball or not. I believe being an athlete, especially a professional athlete, has evolved in its meaning of what can be achieved by the whole person.”

“Our talents in our game are now leveraging us into board rooms, executive positions, founders of brands and businesses and more during our playing career. There is no more, ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’ My response is, ‘I’ve been doing it.’ The only thing that changes for our generation when we retire is we don’t have to go to practice and play in games, but our mentality is forever. The business opportunities we create while playing carry us into a different room but never a different mentality when retirement comes. We are athletes forever.”

Johnson has identified multiple causes that she wants to use her platform to bring attention to,  “I work in the education and youth programs environment,” she said. “I have identified how I’d like to enhance the education experience for kids who require alternative learning structures by developing a specific charter school for this demographic.”

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.