Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
Jacqueline “Jacque” Coleman has spent more than three decades tracking an executive career in the sports orbit, paving the road for more women to find prominent jobs on the business side of the industry. But she’s never envisioned it that way.
“I’ve never thought of my career as trailblazing,” she says with a laugh. “I always thought of it from a perspective of having the confidence and wherewithal to know that when I walk into a room, I’m supposed to be here. I consistently empower myself with that.”
As the senior vice president of marketing, broadcasting and game presentation for the Washington Nationals, Coleman glides across a tightrope of responsibility that’s not for the faint of heart. Win or lose, it’s her job to bake the complexities of America’s favorite pastime into a wholesome apple pie of strategic business goals, player personalities, sponsor negotiation, and fan expectations—and then make it make money, in the multi-billion-dollar industry of family entertainment.
“There are times when we face lots of obstacles, whether it’s a broadcast, whether it’s Opening Day, or whether it's shows we’re producing for corporate partnerships. There’ll be something that’s dropped in our laps and it’s hard to understand how we’re going to get there,” she says. “But bumpy roads can lead to beautiful places.”
In a gender-lopsided arena, Coleman owns her power. Apparently, she’s not the only woman doing that within the Nationals organization. “At least seven women are heads of offices in our organization. We are mentors to each other, and we're mentors to other women in the industry,” she says. “We’re not doing it because it’s the right space to be in. This is how this organization is structured and it makes me incredibly happy.”
Friends say Coleman is creatively restless. Her mind constantly fires fresh ideas, new strategies and fast takes on how to accomplish a goal. In 2019, she and her team, along with others in the organization, had only 48 hours to produce a victory parade after winning the World Series. How’d they get it done? They locked down in one room together for several hours to hammer out all the details, resulting in a tremendous celebratory street party for more than a million fans. “Don’t take no for an answer,” she says. “Keep asking questions until you get to your yes.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be well-liked and respected among your colleagues when you’re trying to get to that yes. There's an intrigue about Coleman that raises the question: How can someone so bold, so brilliant and driven, be so genuinely kind and sweet to the point where you want to be her friend?
“I have this philosophy of living the 'dream of team.' ” It’s never about me. I didn’t get anywhere without people around me that consistently elevated me, believed in me, helped me and guided me. And I truly desire to bring other people forward. I want to help people see the greatness within themselves. My management style is to roll up my sleeves and say, ‘We’ll do it together.’ ”
She’s also stayed true to her humble beginnings.
“I started out as the receptionist at BET,” Coleman says. “I’d just graduated from college, and I was looking through the newspaper for a job. Since I didn’t know anybody who worked at BET, I decided that if I wanted an opportunity, I’d have to get it from the inside.” Coleman answered phones and greeted visitors for about a year at the cable startup, until BET’s co-founder Bob Johnson stopped by to chat. He’d noticed her punctuality and work ethic each time he passed the front desk.
“When I told Bob I had a degree in production, he offered to move me to news or sports. I chose sports,” says Coleman, who started as a production assistant, with Johnson off-handedly reminding her she’d have to work hard. Undaunted, Coleman’s “put me in cold” mentality would lead her to produce award-winning shows and specials covering Black college football, basketball, boxing and several Super Bowls and NBA All-Star weekends. In time, she became BET’s vice president of sports, specials and primetime and managed staff in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., before leaving the cable network to once again join Johnson at another startup. This time, he tapped her to be the vice president of programming and production for the Charlotte Bobcats’ (NBA) Regional Sports Network. Prior to joining the Nationals, Coleman served as vice president of arena operations, broadcasting and radio for the Washington Mystics.
Coleman’s love for sports grew out of her relationship with her military dad, who was one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. “I would joke that I was my father’s son because I grew up camping and watching games with him,” she says. She was also an athlete in her own right—she played basketball and volleyball but ultimately settled on track and field throughout high school, setting records and participating in the Penn Relays. Coleman bonded with her dad over confidence and integrity, but it was her mom who taught her that “buckle down” focus, and “hold your own feet to the fire” mentality.
“My mom was Jamaican and went to school in London before coming to the United States,” says Coleman. “She taught me about work and reliability, being humble and giving back. I’ve always wanted to be sure I was living up to my parents’ example and who they were in their lives.”
And that’s paid off. Throughout her career, Coleman has won Emmy awards, two NAACP Image awards, and received various accolades for original programming. She’s not interested in becoming a household name, but she is committed to encouraging more women like her to reach the front office.
“Women of color are inclusive of so many nationalities, and none of us are hiding under a rock,” she says. “If you can see her, you can be her—we are setting a living example.”
Madelyne Woods is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multichannel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.