When we speak to Samantha Johnson on the phone, it’s 7pm in Turkey where the sports broadcaster is based and she’s getting ready to see Rudimental in concert. Sounds like an ordinary Friday night for most but when your work schedule is as busy as Johnson’s and well-known live music acts are rare in Istanbul, it’s a pretty big deal.
After the hardworking, prosperous couple of years Johnson has enjoyed, a night out on the town is certainly well-deserved. Originally from Birmingham, Johnson, 33, sought pastures new a couple thousand miles away in Istanbul, Turkey where she would anchor TRT World’s Beyond The Game, an English-language sports show.
Johnson’s starring role on the format astonishingly makes her the only black female sports broadcaster in Turkey – and possibly one of few across Europe.
The move to Istanbul was a fantastic opportunity which came at a time when Johnson had achieved all that she possibly could in the UK. Among some of the highlights on Johnson’s remarkable resume: Presenting on Sky Sports, hosting World Cup specials alongside Ian Wright and interviews with Olympians, boxing legends, Formula One racers, NFL stars and football players.
It’s no secret that the world of sports is notoriously a male-dominated one but Johnson quickly found her feet in the industry. “It was more like a challenge at the beginning of my career because you’re trying to establish and prove yourself,” Johnson told The Silhouette, still with a twang of her Brummie accent.
“I was okay working in a male-dominated industry only because I was comfortable in laying down the markers so I gave as good as I got. Perfect example, when a guest came onto the show when I worked at Sky Sports, he jokingly said – and we always had banter – but he said, ‘Oh, Sam can you go and get me a cup of tea’. I said, ‘Well you know where the kettle is, go get it yourself!’”
Sports is a man’s world… for now
This type of ballsy, no-nonsense tenacity is the reason why Johnson is in the position she stands in today. And as a black female from a working class family trying to carve a career for herself in the tough industry, Johnson always had to work that little bit harder.
So how does she feel about being the only woman of colour in sport on Turkish TV?
“I am optimistic for the future”
The broadcaster explained: “It’s weird, I’ve never really thought of it like that. The only black female broadcaster in [continental] Europe – there might be some others but you just don’t really know because they’re not really at the forefront. I don’t think of it like that, I literally just go in, do my work and my work is good, then I go home. Now that you’ve said that, it’s kind of got me in shock a little bit!”
Johnson continued: “But diversity just needs to improve, period. It’s getting better and we’re being more vocal so I’m seeing changes… It’s just taking a long time because I remember starting out in the industry and there was no one I could really turn to.
“I found that really difficult, not being able to look up to somebody who could just guide me as a black woman in the sports industry. Luckily, I can give advice now and say, this will probably happen, if you don’t know what to do call me or if you need help with a contact.”
She added: “I just want to do the best that I can do and then let my work speak for itself. But I am optimistic for the future.”
Johnson muses on the stark difference in equality between Europe and America, where black journalists like Fox Sports’ Pam Oliver and ESPN’S Jemele Hill and Cari Champion are “bossing it” on the main stage.
Going for gold
For herself, Johnson is doing tremendous work on TRT World. In 2016, the go-getter scored an exclusive interview with Premiere League manager Claudio Ranieri right before Leicester City claimed the unprecedented glory. The interview went viral with Johnson’s work promptly broadcast on CNN, Fox Sports and The Guardian to name a few.
Johnson makes it look easy but behind the scenes it has at times been an uphill struggle. Addressing the prevalent discrimination issue in sports, the presenter explains: “I think there’s a stigma attached that if you’re female or you look a certain way, then you are in the industry just to bag a footballer or don’t know what you’re talking about.
Watch Samantha Johnson’s interview with Claudio Ranieri:
“Now, I’m not saying I’m a fountain of knowledge but I’m very passionate and serious about my career. So I have to take into account that, I know I’m curvy and that could work against me but I just have to work that bit harder. I just have to be a grafter.”
While there were few other black women in the field when Johnson first started out, she is now able to give back to younger journalists like her through mentoring and work with equality organisations like Kick It Out.
When you’ve such an extensive career like Johnson’s, many would find it hard to single out a defining moment but the presenter is certain of her proudest achievement.
“I love the fact that my work with Leicester City went viral and when I did the interview with Ranieri, CNN, Fox Sports picked it up and that just came from my idea,” she said, adding: “I thought, ‘Wow, you guys didn’t think of that?!’ That’s a moment where I thought, ‘Sam, you’ve got what it takes girl’.”
Istanbul instantly a hit?
After fighting the good fight, life is great for Johnson right now. Despite the culture shock of Turkey and arriving in the middle of heightened political tension, the anchor has settled in comfortably.
Johnson said of her new home: “The hospitality is so amazing and they make you feel so welcome. Obviously when I’m walking down the street I’m not Turkish so I get stared at. But it’s not a stare like, ‘Oh you’re black, what are you doing here?’ It’s more like a, ‘Wow, you’re here! Are you working here, etc?’”
In regards to her personal life, Johnson is starting to make more time for herself outside of work although – currently single – she admits to still being “clueless” about how to master the dating scene right now.
Still, Johnson has no complaints: “For the moment I just live my life right now, it’s great. I’ve got my dream job, I’m surrounded by great, positive people and I’ve made friends for life here. It’s the best move I’ve ever made in my career or even my life.”
Follow Samantha Johnson on Twitter @MissSamJohnson.