Latina Empowerment in Sports
By Gloria Romano-Barrera
While the glory mainly goes to the athlete, there are countless others who work off the field to promote athletic competition, develop a thriving business, and deliver quality entertainment to fans. Meet Blanca Gonzalez, Senior Vice President and General Manager, WSS banner, Footlocker, Inc.; Jennifer Vasquez, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Golden State Warriors; Maria Daniela Sanchez, Technical Program Manager at Google; Laura Perez, Senior Manager Brand Operations, Spurs Sports & Entertainment; Lisette Carnet, the first female Cuban American MLBPA General Certified Agent and founder of Leona Sports Agency; and Maria V. Duran, Director, Community Engagement, 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship. Here we celebrate their accomplishments and recognize them for their commitment to empowering more Latinas in the business of sports.
Senior Vice President and General Manager WSS banner, Foot Locker, Inc.
“Sports has been in my DNA forever,” shares Blanca Gonzalez, Senior Vice President and General Manager of WSS banner, Foot Locker, Inc. “I am honored to join Foot Locker, Inc. as General Manager at WSS banner. I have watched WSS grow its footprint in Latino communities by investing in authentic and culturally relevant touch points with its customers. WSS has proven to demonstrate a high level of cultural awareness that honors and respects the richness of the Latino experience. Together we’ll build on this relationship, continuing WSS’s success and growth while being keenly focused on how we best serve the communities where we operate.”
Hailing from Mexico at the age of three, Gonzalez is the youngest of five and grew up in Los Angeles, CA. She recalls her mother and grandmother working as seamstresses to make ends meet. While doing so, Gonzalez learned the craft of making things, and a passion for product began.
With a dream to pursue fashion, Gonzalez attended fashion school and worked in the fashion industry — Nike, for example, where she served as the Vice President of North America Product Merchandising.
With more than 19 years of experience across various Nike leadership roles in Marketing, Merchandising, and Sales in Mexico and the United States, Gonzalez began her current role in May 2023. She is looking forward to being inspired and developing programs and training for store teams and communities. And while the major focus of my career has been North America (including Mexico & Canada), she has led global roles, strategies and also spent time in the Latin America sector/business.
“Curating quality, innovative and fun products has always been in my DNA,” she shares. “I’ve stayed in the sports industry, the retail industry, and the sneaker industry, because the products we sell have the power to change people’s lives. I believe the power of sports can transform lives. Sports helps people, especially young people, be healthy, from a both a mental and wellness perspective.”
A mother of three young children, 13-year-old twin girls, and a son with Down syndrome, Gonzalez knows first-hand the importance of sportsmanship in their lives. From building teamwork to mental wellness, the factors of engaging in sports are many. She adds with a laugh, “I know sports kept me out of trouble when I was young.”
“I had great coaches and mentors,” Gonzalez shares. “What really helped me throughout the difficult high school years was being connected to sports. It gave me the confidence to trust myself and my voice and to pursue my dreams. I want to amplify these benefits within the communities WSS serves.”
Gonzalez reports directly to Frank Bracken, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. “Blanca’s vast knowledge of the sneaker industry attained throughout her tenure with our great partner Nike will be an incredible asset to our WSS business, which has tremendous potential,” says Bracken. “Blanca’s remarkable experience, understanding of our diverse customers, and personal roots within WSS’s home turf will help deepen our relationships within communities and expand WSS’s unique offering of culturally connected experiences. She will also help us build the talent and operational capabilities to rapidly scale WSS, making it our next $1B banner.”
Breaking barriers in corporate America and in the sports arena, Gonzalez hopes to continue to amplify opportunities for Latinas and be a role model for future leaders.
Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Golden State Warriors
“I grew up playing and watching sports. From the first time, I stepped onto a field or cheered from the stands, I knew that sports would
forever hold a special place in my heart and shape my identity,” shares Jennifer Vasquez, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
“The adrenaline rush that comes with witnessing incredible athleticism is an experience that cannot be replicated. It’s an all-encompassing experience for me to be able to immerse myself in that world and become part of that magic.”
Appointed to the Golden State Warriors team as Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 2022, Vasquez plays a central role in the team’s internal and external diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy, including oversight of the design, management, and measurement. In addition, she facilitates the organization’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) network, which plays a vital role in fostering an inclusive environment for everyone.
As the organization’s first vice president of DEI, Vasquez also focuses on implementing more meaningful inclusionary practices that will continually enhance the experiences created for every Dub Nation member. In this capacity, she works closely with the leadership team and various departments to establish benchmarks that will measure their progress.
As a Latina, Vasquez has faced many obstacles to be where she is today, including systemic inequities that disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Despite these challenges, she has persevered and thrived by channeling her experiences to fuel her passion for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“I have taken on leadership roles, advocated for inclusive practices, and contributed to creating a more equitable environment for individuals from all backgrounds,” she shares. “My journey as a Latina has shaped my perspective, instilled a deep sense of empathy, and heightened my commitment to breaking down barriers for others who may face similar obstacles. Through my own experiences, I am driven to create meaningful change, fostering environments where individuals can embrace their unique identities and contribute their diverse perspectives, ultimately leading to greater success and inclusivity for all.”
Vasquez believes sports have the power to inspire, captivate, and bring people together. A role she also embraces as a leader at the organization.
“The future of sports for Latinas is filled with potential and exciting developments. Increased representation and visibility will inspire more young Latinas to pursue opportunities in sports,” she shares. “Latinas will continue to serve as trailblazers and role models, challenging cultural stereotypes and showcasing their talents in various sports. The emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and support systems will create more opportunities for Latina athletes to excel. Latinas in sports will engage their communities, advocate for health and wellness, and leverage social and digital platforms to amplify their voices. Ultimately, Latinas will achieve success on global stages, inspiring future generations of Latinas to dream big.”
Maria Daniela Sanchez
Technical Program Manager at Google Executive Vice President of Operation at ALPFA Atlanta
Lead at Hola – The Latinx Familia at Google
Maria Daniela Sanchez, a technical program manager at Google, began her sports journey at the young age of four, which was not surprising considering her father was an athlete who played tennis and competitive swimming.
Sanchez, born in Bucaramanga, Colombia, began competing when she was eight years old and continued until she was 18. She gave everything she had to achieve her goal of being a professional tennis player. Still, one day her desire to learn more prompted her to apply for a scholarship in the United States. She shares how posting her highest-rated tennis performance video on YouTube resulted in her being approached by several U.S. universities. She relocated to Georgia in 2014 after receiving a full scholarship to play collegiate tennis at Georgia Dalton State College, fulfilling her desire of travelling studying outside of Colombia.
“My college experience as an athlete in the US exceeded my expectations,” shares Sanchez of her experience. “It was an amazing experience overall getting to meet people from all over the world. We had people from Belgium, New Zealand, Russia, Barbados, and that was one of my favorite parts of coming here to the U.S. to play a college sport.”
After graduating with two degrees, Information Systems and Logistics and Supply Chain Management and a minor in Business Analytics, Sanchez was president of ALPFA Dalton State during her Junior and Senior years in college and was selected as the ‘Graduation Highlight’ for her academic standing, athletic accomplishments, and community involvement.
A technical program manager for the infrastructure team at Google and a member of the leadership team Hola BRG in Atlanta, GA, Sanchez was hired by the company two years after graduating in 2020. She has served on ALPFA Atlanta’s executive board for over four years. She is currently an executive vice president of operations while attending the Georgia Institute of Technology (GaTech) to get her Master of Science in Analytics.
Working at Google has been an amazing experience, I’m so thankful to be here,” she shares. “It’s such a great company. I’m surrounded by people in the world, and the company has a very collaborative culture. I’m the only Latina on my team and I was the only female for a year. So, I’m very proud of representing my home country, and in general, the Latinas in the world and the women in the world in a male-dominated area.
Sanchez aims to open doors for other Latinas and provide opportunities to succeed. Last year, she received the servant leadership award. She was honored this year for her civic involvement. By sharing her experience, she also hopes to inspire others.
Senior Manager, Brand Operations, Spurs Sports & Entertainment
Laura Perez, Senior Manager, Brand Operations Spurs Sports & Entertainment, was never encouraged to participate in sports despite growing up in a household that loved sports. However, she played basketball and volleyball in seventh grade and gained knowledge that she now uses in her job.
“I remember telling my parents I wanted to quit the basketball team, and they didn’t let me.” she shares. “My Dad sat me down and had a firm conversation with me about commitment. He said, ‘You signed up and you committed to this team. You can’t just quit when you’re feeling challenged. Your team is relying on you.’”
Having worked at Spurs Sports & Entertainment for 18 years, Perez became the lead in developing the Spurs Brand Operations team in July 2022. The Brand Operations team focuses on bridging communication gaps, identifying, analyzing, testing, and implementing process through optimization.
“In our first year, our Operations team has built stronger relationships across the organization by engaging project stakeholders and utilizing everyone’s skillset,” she shares.
“I’ve always been a team player. If others are counting on me, I want them to know they can trust me to get the job done. I also work towards getting to know people outside of the workplace. I genuinely care about getting to know their interests and finding commonality between us. My personal courage and motivation are inspired by leaders who challenge, empower, and serve to elevate others. I strive to inspire others through my humility and authenticity. I believe employee engagement is tied to success. I lead by creating a culture of collaborative leadership and empathy. “
Following its internal motto, “It’s bigger than basketball,” Perez takes pride in the commitments the team is responsible for outside the court. This past year, the organization supported the city of Uvalde, TX, by hosting an event at a local high school to bring a little bit of joy to a grieving community.
“That’s what’s most meaningful to me,” she shares. “It’s bigger than basketball. It’s not just what’s happening on the court, it’s also taking care of your people, and we take care of each other. I’m fully committed to an organization that values integrity, success, and caring. I’m blessed to work for a value-based organization that treats employees like family. We take care of each other. We win together. We fail together. Most importantly, we learn together.”
A mother of two, Isabella, 10, and Adrian, 7, Perez strongly believes in the significance of commitment. She also believes that Latinas are becoming more visible in the sports world.
“People before me have paved the way and I’m paving the way for the next generation to have new opportunities,” she shares. “Cultural traditions are evolving. If we continue to expose, encourage, and support young Latinas, we will continue to see more Latina representation in Sports.”
With a vibrant Hispanic culture in San Antonio, TX, Perez shares fans expect to see la cultura embraced in their Brand efforts. Therefore, the team explores authentic ways to connect to Hispanic fans.
“Internally, we bounce ideas around with our Hispanic Affinity Network,” she shares. “The Hispanic Affinity Network offers a safe space for underrepresented groups and creates a sense of belonging. I think we will continue to see an increase of minority groups interested in pursuing internal and external opportunities with Spurs Sports & Entertainment. Our Brand reach is expanding, and we are committed to growing our fan base. I believe that through diversity and inclusion, the future of sports is already evolving. The Spurs had the first-ever female assistant coach, and our leadership is represented through diverse ethnicities, cultures, and values. The Spurs have always been a leader in social responsibility.”
MLBPA General Certified Agent and Founder of Leona Sports Agency
Lisette Carnet is the first woman Cuban American MLBPA General Certified Agent pioneering change for the Latino baseball player, and founder of Leona Sports Agency.
She recalls that she had no interest in baseball before she met a professional player at a charity event. She then volunteered for the athlete’s foundation until she was appointed as the executive director. That’s when they all started taking notice.
“Little by little he started incorporating me in all aspects of his business,” she shares. “ I took a seat at the table because that was part of my job, and because I was good at what I did, I stood out.”
Today, the mother of three daughters, and one son, Carnet feels proud of her accomplishments, yet feels disappointed she is only one of only a dozen certified female agents in the United States, and one of just four Latinas.
“There shouldn’t be the first woman anything at this point. These doors should have opened a long time ago. I don’t want to be defined by being the first anything, I want to be defined by my reputation as a strong advocate for the Latino player. And the more that I’m in this industry, the more I realize that this space was not only not created for us, it was designed to keep us out. That’s the reality that I face every day, and it doesn’t make me happy. I always tell my three daughters that ‘I’m hoping that I’ll open a little bit of doors for you’. If there’s anything that I’m doing, I’m doing it for my girls and all the other girls that I want to help along the way.”
Carnet represents over 100 professional baseball players in MLB, MiLB and internationally. In addition to negotiating deals and contracts with Major League teams, she oversees the development of player branding, marketing, community relations and post-career planning. She is the founder of Leona Sports Agency, a bilingual company which curates custom plans for each of its clients based on her vast experience of the specific needs of the Latino baseball player. Carnet is also the founder of the Latino Players Coalition, an organization designed to build a bridge between Latino and American cultures for the advancement of Latino players in MLB. Through this organization, she has collaborated with Tony Clark, President of the MLBPA Union, and his staff to help create a better system for the Latino player in Major and Minor Leagues.
You could reach any goal that you set for yourself as long as you have determination and focus,” she shares. “You have to be brave, and you have to go for it. No matter how many times you fail, no matter how many times they tell you no, none of that matters. Because if you believe in yourself, that’s all you need. That’s what I want them to know.”
Carnet has spent the past two years advising MLB Superstar, Yasiel Puig, in all aspects of his life. Puig has publicly commented on how he wished he would have had Carnet as his agent when he first started. She uses her heritage to help MLB players integrate into their team communities. One of her latest players to be called up to MLB is also another Cuban talent, Dairon Blanco, who plays for the Kansas City Royals.
Today Carnet is hopeful to see Latinas in sports and see more representation as the years go by.
“I think that there’s going be a lot more of us,” she shares. And hopefully, there’s a lot more acceptance within the organization in the future. It’s always hard for the ones that step into a space first, but I’m not the first. There are other females that I look up to have been doing it successfully for many more years than I have, and they have been doing it quietly under the radar. Hopefully, as time goes on, we have opened more of those doors for each other.”
Sports journalist, content creator, philanthropist and children’s book author
“I always love sports because it’s a way to unite people,” shares Nicole Fernandez, sports journalist, content creator, philanthropist and children’s book author.
“I decided to focus my journalism career on sports because it’s a way to unite people no matter what your background or your language is,” Fernandez shares. “People get together in a stadium to celebrate and watch a game. I think that’s what drew me to sports.”
Born and raised in Miami, FL to Colombian parents, Fernandez considers herself a passionate, empathetic, hard-working person. Fernandez began her role with Las Mayores- Major League Baseball– as a Spanish Senior Associate Coordinator, Social Media Marketing & Innovation in May 2021. She creates content for all 30 MLB Spanish team accounts, watches 3-4 live games per day and produces the content that is shown in the team’s TW/FB/IG/IGS accounts.
As a storyteller, Fernandez has been eager to tell the story of the athlete, regardless of gender. “An athlete goes through so much,” she shares. “I think people see the result, but they don’t know everything they’ve gone through.”
Fernandez shares her passion for sports, especially baseball, through her social media channels and uses storytelling in her work as she believes sports is more than just playing a sport.
“It represents so much for a person, and it can make a person into who they
are by providing opportunities only sports can,” she shares.
Fernandez is also the founder of Game Time Foundation (GTF). GTF was founded in 2014 and has helped more than 3,500 children in baseball, softball and soccer teams in Colombia, Puerto Rico and Honduras. In December 2022, she self-published her first bilingual children’s book, A 9-Inning Dream Un Sueño de 9 Entradas. This book pays homage to her family, her culture, her work and philanthropic experiences.
Today Fernandez hopes to be an example to others, especially Latinas.
“I think there still needs to be more women in baseball reporting,” she shares. “I think there is a space for everyone. And you’re unique in your background, whether you come from an American background, Latino background, because your point of view is different from everyone else. I think that’s what makes us even better. And I think we can help each other grow in sports, grow in journalism, in anything you can. It’s important because everyone has a unique experience that makes them unique. And I think that’s one way that I hope I get to girls like me who are born here to Hispanic parents and say, ‘Okay, if she did it, so can I So, I hope to do that.’”
Maria V. Duran
Director, Community Engagement
2024 College Football Playoff National Championship
“Sports can touch our community in different ways,” shares Maria Vilma Duran, Director of Community Engagement for the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship Host Committee under the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. “Being able to have a woman in the C-suite, and then be part the decision making for major sporting events, work with sponsors, and build campaigns is extremely important.”
In her role, Duran manages and coordinates projects and programs, including community development initiatives. Before this role, she led community outreach for the Houston Dynamo. She served on the 2016 Copa America Centenario Local Organizing Committee and continues to be part of Houston’s Local Soccer Host Committee, supporting the biggest soccer games in Houston.
Dedicating her career to serving her community, both in Houston and in her native El Salvador, her commitment to the community goes far beyond her role in the world of sport.
“We want to make sure that when these major events come through the city there’s a real economic impact,” she shares. “We have a supplier diversity program where we ensure that vendors get certified and that they’re on our list so that when contract opportunities come up, they’re the first ones that we go to.”
As an entrepreneur, she founded Duran Concepts, a multicultural experiential and sports marketing company.
As a philanthropist, she founded the Central American Collective to shine a light on art and culture. She is involved in the community through her many leadership and volunteer roles. She currently serves as co-chair of the Latino Initiatives Advisory Committee for the Holocaust Museum Houston and various other boards & committees including, the Alley Theatre El Zocalo Advisory Committee, BakerRipley Pasadena Advisory Committee, and Pan American Round Table of Houston. She also facilitates economic development and international business opportunities between the United States and Central America as Vice President of the Cámara de Comercio CentroAmericana.
From management roles to Director roles, Duran is committed to not be the only Latina and the only woman in a boardroom or staff. For Duran, being able to recruit other minority staff members and opening doors of opportunities has been her goal.
“I’ve been in many spaces where I was the only woman but when there’s two or three of us, we are able to help and champion each other,” she shares. “Thankfully, over the last couple of years, there are a lot more women in sports that have been able to move up the ranks and we’re creating an environment where you can raise your voice and you can have opposing opinions and still be a valued member of those teams.”
Over the years she has won accolades for her leadership in the community including being named one of Rumbo Newspaper’s Mujeres Destacadas as well as one of the Influential Latinos of Houston by Latino Leaders Magazine.
Today she is excited for Latinas in the world of sport and looks forward to being an inspiration for all Latinas and women.
“I see more Latinos in the C suite, I see more Latina owners of sports franchises, I see more Latinas taking on roles and work that have always been deemed male dominant, like refereeing or coaching,” she shares. “It’s incredible to see that professional sports teams are also embracing that. The fact that there are different organizations, there are different communities coming together to really support each other, and support professional development for women in sports, is a game changer helping increase the amount of Latinas and women in all roles from executives to coaching staff. I see a very bright future.”