The Sit Down: Benita Fitzgerald Mosley

When Benita Fitzgerald Mosley was a high school freshman, one of her classmates made the 1976 Olympic team in the high jump. Not long after, her track coach said she was equally as talented and could one day compete in the Olympics. And you can guess what happened next: Both athletes made the Olympic team in 1980. Benita would go on to win a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympic Games and become the second American woman and the first African-American woman to do it. But Benita was just getting started with her career—one that she says has been beyond her wildest dreams. After leaving her professional field of engineering, she moved into sports administration when she began a job at the Special Olympics. She was a senior executive with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the former president and C.E.O. of Women in Cable and Telecommunications, and now she is helping to improve the lives of disadvantaged children around the country through sport as the C.E.O. of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA. To say she’s an established and high-profile leader in the sports industry is an understatement—but her number-one goal at the end of the day is really simple: to help other people achieve gold medals in their lives and careers.

Her beginnings: “When I was eight years old, we had a field day at school and the newspaper was there covering it. I can remember it perfectly: I was wearing a pink-and-white-checkered dress and had white cat-eye sunglasses on. The paper saw me running and jumping and immediately took notice. They said I looked like a gazelle, and ended up putting my picture in the paper and writing about how talented I was. That was certainly an early sign of my potential.”

Her career: “Beyond my wildest dreams, because I never could have imagined it. I think of my career as a lattice: one opportunity elegantly leads to the next, and I’ve been blessed to have amazing opportunities come my way. In every environment I’ve worked in, I’ve only thought about how I can contribute and continue to rise the challenge. I’m always thinking about how I can make the organization better for my having been there.”

Her work: “A typical day is back-to-back calls and meetings, with everyone from staff to funders to grant partners to athletes. I’m always trying to seize opportunities when they present themselves. As a C.E.O., I love envisioning what’s possible, and then seeing it come to fruition. My best days have been the launch of Sport for Good New York City, this past January, and the Laureus Summit, in July. Both of those events exceeded our expectations in terms of how well they were received, how well-attended they were, and the amount of media exposure we received. I was so proud to see our staff bring it all to life.”

Her medal: “That experience was everything to me, and my gold medal is the gift that keeps on giving. When you’re in the race, there are 10 hurdles you have to clear, and it’s a race to the finish line. To find that complete focus and drive while competing against the world’s best athletes has given me the confidence to know I can do anything. That, for me, has been the biggest gift at all. I’m no longer intimated by a challenge.”

Her best memory: “At the 1984 Olympic Games, I saw my parents’ faces as I came around on my victory lap. My parents came from very humble beginnings, and went on to achieve beyond their expectations in both of their careers. At the Olympics, I just remember their faces as they sat there beaming with pride. They were definitely thinking how on earth did this happen to us, what did we do to deserve this. They felt so grateful, as did I.”

The best advice she was ever given: “I asked Anita DeFrantz—the International Olympic Committee board member and an Olympic rower—how I could get involved with the Olympic movement in the U.S. because I was so eager to be a part of it. She told me to get myself elected as the track and field representative to the athlete’s advisory council. I followed her advice, and it really did transform my career. I think what she was really saying was start where you are. She identified the best access point for me as a recently retired Olympic medalist, and knew that I could leverage that to make the connections I needed to reach my goal.”

Her mission: “Because sport is an activity that kids enjoy and naturally gravitate towards, we can use it as a mechanism to improve their lives. It improves their health and physical and mental wellness, increases their education and employment outcomes, and provides loving and caring adults through coaches and program administrators who care and want the best for them. All of these are key components to developing the skills in children that lead to successful lives off the playing field.

Her success secret: “Do what makes you happy. I can’t imagine keeping myself in situations that make me unhappy or create undue negative stress in my life. I simply don’t tolerate it. When you are surrounded by people who respect you, and you have mutual respect for, everything clicks. It’s so important to surround yourself with the love and respect of people who you care about.”

Her work ethic: “I’m working at all hours and at different locations. I enjoy working and I never dread going to my office because I don’t deprive myself of the other things that make life joyful. I believe you can have everything, just not at the same time. Last week, I was in Atlanta with my son for his first week of college, and then I went straight to a meeting. Yesterday, I got to see my daughter as she left for her first day of high school … and then I headed right to New York City for a day full of meetings. I have a strong work ethic, but I have a strong family ethic, as well, and that allows me to work as hard as I need to get everything done.”

The best part of her job: “Many of us have had the privilege of participating in sports programs, or having our children participate, so we see those benefits day in and day out. Laureus has the privilege of giving those same opportunities to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it. It’s always an amazing experience to be able to attend our Day of Sport events. I am able to meet with young people, hopefully impart some wisdom on them, and of course, playing with them is always a lot of fun.”

Her greatest influences: “Without a doubt, my parents. They were both incredible role models and disciplinarians who set very high expectations for my siblings and me. They also instilled a strong sense of faith and not making excuses for ourselves. Everything was very matter of fact and they never dwelled on the hardships; they just kept on moving and made a great life for themselves and their kids. They were always there for us, no matter what. I learned so much from them by example, and what they either didn’t know or hadn’t experienced, they didn’t let that stop us from being able to experience it. At 16, when I started flying around the world for track competitions, they were scared to death, but they let me go to places they had never been. They were always encouraging, always positive.”

Her lesson: “At all times, it’s so important to try your hardest and be as ethical as you can. You don’t cheat, you don’t cut corners. That’s what I learned on the track and always carry with me.”

Her happy place: “My happy place is the dining room table, with all four of my family members. This is a tradition that was started when my parents were still alive: all 10 of us would sit around my mother’s dining room table on Sunday afternoon after church. My sister and I have kept up the tradition, and it’s so important to me.”

What’s next: “This Wednesday’s Sport for Good Fashion Show! We will then use the fall to leverage all of the brand-new assets we have created this past year, including executing on the Sport for Good League and all of our Sport for Good Cities. We want to attract the funding that will continue to get us further ahead and positively impacting more youth in 2019.”