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Charece Williams Gee Is Inspiring Change on the Court, in the Boardroom and Beyond

The Under Armour executive is driving change as the company celebrates 25 successful years and goes into overdrive for a booming future.

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.

It’s been just shy of a year since Charece Williams Gee joined the Under Armour team as senior director and head of sports marketing, and she is already making an impact. Gee came in the door of the popular sports apparel brand with an intention to shift workplace culture by increasing community involvement and purposeful partnerships with other like-minded organizations. She brings her love of sports and marketing to create an environment where she can foster change in the boardroom, communities and beyond.

Throughout her career, Gee has contributed to the culture of sports with innovative experiences, including some of her signature Mountain Dew projects, The Deep Shot, and the Crossover Salon. The award-winning executive, primarily known for the work she has done to elevate the WNBA, wanted to contribute to a space outside of women’s basketball and did just that with the MTN DEW 3-Point Contest, which has become the highlight of the NBA All-Star weekend festivities.

During her PepsiCo tenure, Gee partnered with the NBA to build on the brand’s energetic flair and the players’ excitement to “pull up from further and further beyond the three-point line,” says Gee, who has continued her partnership with the NBA at Under Armour. “We thought, ‘Why don't we offer a shot that allows players to earn more points during the competition, and attribute it to Mountain Dew?’ We made the first change, the three-point competition, in over 30 years by adding the Mountain Dew zone. It was a game changer.”

WNBA player A’ja Wilson was a notable inspiration for Gee’s Mountain Dew Crossover Salon. Wilson tweeted that she hoped the “wubble” (the WNBA’s bubble for the 2020 season) had a hair salon. And Gee took it to heart reminiscing about her college volleyball days. “I had the same micro braids from the beginning of volleyball season until I went home in December, because I had no one to do my hair,” she says. “I knew what that was like to want to play and look your best.”

The NBA and WNBA partnered with Gee to create the salon, and all the services were complimentary. “We had hair braiders, and everyone was invited to make an appointment,” says Gee. “[Former Aces coach] Bill Lambeer wouldn't shave his face until he felt like the women got what they needed. Completing this project was one of those moments, when I was able to match my personal life and experiences as an athlete with having the power to make a difference.”

Gee’s knack for innovation has been a theme throughout her career and taking her ideas abroad via her own strategic marketing consultancy, Inside the Huddle, was inevitable. When she was a consultant at Wasserman Media Group in 2013, she realized she had something special to offer her clients. “There was passion and information that I had to share with groups. That was something I wasn't necessarily doing within the job,” she says.

Inside the Huddle, which helps young athletes with their career transition after sports, and her connection with the Prime Minister of Haiti (via her work with the National Basketball Retired Players Association), resulted in the first sport business conference for Haiti. “They were really focused on trying to build infrastructure for their young athletes,” she says. “We partnered with the minister of sport, the minister of youth, and we brought in a ton of retired NBA players to do clinics and serve on panels.”

This summer, Gee is heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands to launch the first ever Under Armour Next Women's Basketball Camp with South Carolina star Aliyah Boston. “I was so intrigued about her story,” says Gee, who recently signed Boston. “She didn't have a lot of access to play basketball in an elite way growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands. So, her family made the decision for her to move to the U.S. with relatives. When we signed her, we talked a lot about what we could do for kids back in the Virgin Islands, who may not always be able to move here to excel in the sport.” Now, the UA women’s basketball camp will bring high school athletes access to equipment, coaching and facilities.

While Gee completed graduate school and began her career, she was fortunate to cross paths with individuals who became mentors, like Dr. Richard Lapchick, founder, and director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida; Dr. Bill Sutton, a distinguished academician and sports marketing expert; and Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow, Sr., her first boss at Disney Sports Attractions.

“What I gained from Dr. Lapchick was that although we work for organizations to make money, we can also try to change things to make this world more equitable for women, people of color, and others,” she says. “But most importantly, he had an arrangement with the NBA where he chose not to get paid, so that they could take what money they were going to give him to pay me for a summer internship. So, when I talk about people really putting their money where their mouth is and investing in me, he was certainly someone that did that.”

As for Winslow, he and Gee have a personal connection in addition to a professional one. “He was my boss as well as my dad’s [Clarence Williams] teammate at the San Diego Chargers,” Gee says. “He went out of his way to expose me to his network, taking me to rooms that some of my co-workers, along the way, were surprised I could get in. And he was unapologetic about giving me a sense of belonging, in a field of professionals who didn’t look like me. All those things showed me where I could go.”

Her late father, who also played for the Commanders, set the bar high when it came to athletics. And she says that he was very intentional about his children playing sports. “Sport was literally in my DNA,” Gee says. “My dad was considered to be undersized, yet he went on to win a Super Bowl ring. He had this underdog mentality, but still found a way to achieve. And that has always inspired me to play collegiate volleyball.”

The former Division I player, who started playing the game to follow in her sister’s footsteps, will be inducted into Irmo High School’s second group of Hall of Famers, where she was once the youngest volleyball player ever. Being able to inspire the next generation is important to Gee, and the people who are benefitting from her hard work are grateful. A young woman (who has worked at UA and now the sports agency CAA) sent Gee a DM, acknowledging her hard work at the Retired Players Association to create a pipeline for future leaders. The admirer saw Gee on a panel and later wrote to her: “I knew that it had to have been someone like you who created this opportunity for me and others to be hired. That's what started my career right out of college. I realized that job only happened because of you, and I thank you for what you have been doing.”

This appreciation is an indicator that all the challenges that Gee has faced are well worth it. “She started her career at a place, because I helped create an avenue for a job,” says Gee. “I was like, a whole ball of tears when I read this. That sort of thing really helps me remember why I do this work.There’s a legacy behind it now, and as a result, other people get opportunities. I’m unapologetic about it too. And I’m really excited to be at UA, which allows me to continue to drive change.”

Bryna Jean-Marie is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.