|Charlotte FC exec Darrius Barnes comfortable with breaking barriers|
|Business operations chief adjusts to new role|
|Published Monday, June 14, 2021 8:00 pm|
Darrius Barnes has always done things differently.
The Knightdale, North Carolina native came from a family of UNC fans. His dad, Bobby Barnes, played football and basketball. Darrius grew up idolizing Michael Jordan and Eddie Pope, who played basketball and soccer respectively for the Tar Heels. Barnes took a very different turn.
He played soccer at Duke, followed by eight seasons with New England Revolution in Major League Soccer and a season with New York Cosmos in NASL. Barnes transitioned from player to league executive, most recently as MLS’s manager of partnership marketing before joining Charlotte FC in April as their director of business operations.
“When I was a kid playing, I was always the one to take risks,” Barnes said on The Post’s Sports Charlotte podcast. “My dad grew up playing basketball and football, which are predominantly Black sports, and I was introduced to [soccer] at a young age. I just gravitated to the sport, because I loved it. The passion I had for it then, I have for it now. It only continues to get deeper and stronger.
“Even understanding back then that there weren’t too many people who looked like me playing this sport, that didn’t deter me from playing the game and doing something I enjoy doing. Fast forward a few years forward to now, I kind of wanted to do the same thing and break down those barriers.”
Barnes encourages other players and interested professionals to be fearless. He credits soccer with teaching him how to deal with adversity, whether that means not making the starting lineup or even the bench, as well as dealing with injuries.
“When I was at the league office, I had a number of conversations with other athletes, other former and current MLS players, former and current Black MLS players [who were] just asking about my experiences,” Barnes said. “You have to be fearless. You have to see yourself on equal and the same playing field as your peers and colleagues. You have to have that mentality. You are going to take your lumps. Finding ways to deal with that adversity and finding ways to bounce back is a trait that I think is undervalued.”
MLS has the best hiring record for people of color in men’s professional sports, per The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which is based at the University of Central Florida. As of 2019, 40.9% of people of color worked in the league office, most of who identified as Latino (21.3%), followed by African American (8%), Asian American (6.6%) and “Other” at 5%.
Barnes will be responsible for leading business outreach and connecting Charlotte FC with youth clubs in the Carolinas. His role also includes marrying the business side with the community outreach side, led by former Charlotte Eagles striker Dustin Swinehart. Providing access to the sport is among the club’s objectives, including constructing a mini-pitch at Sailboat Bay in East Charlotte, which will be unveiled this month as part of Pitches for Progress. Community initiatives will focus on upward mobility, food insecurity and military support.
“Globally access has been a barrier to entry for the sport, and more so, domestically in the United States,” Barnes said. “If we can take on some of those challenges here in our local market to push the game and push the sport forward, we will be doing our part and doing our community a great service.”
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