Marek Warszawski

Warszawski: Who is Fanny Johansson? Fresno State women’s soccer captain shouldn’t be defined by ‘one blip’

Senior defender Fanny Johansson dribbles upfield during Fresno State’s Aug. 30 road match against Oregon.
Senior defender Fanny Johansson dribbles upfield during Fresno State’s Aug. 30 road match against Oregon. COURTESY FRESNO STATE ATHLETICS

Who is Fanny Johansson?

Let’s begin with that question. Who is she?

On behalf of most people reading this, permit me to answer:

Fanny Johansson is that Fresno State women’s soccer player who got drunk and arrested at the house party with those two Bulldogs football players.

If those people stop reading right now, it’s all they’ll ever know. Which bothers me for a few reasons, most importantly this: There’s more about Johansson worth knowing.

A lot more.

I arrived at this conclusion the old-fashioned way, by sitting down with Johansson and having a 30-minute conversation. (OK, it was me asking questions.) I also spoke with her coach, a teammate and a faculty member from Fresno State’s Department of Finance and Business Law.

Do that, and a different image develops. One of a 23-year-old woman serious about school and soccer but also pleasant to be around. Someone who is recognized and admired for her work ethic, leadership qualities and driven personality.

Someone who doesn’t deserve to be defined by her worst night.

“I’ve known her for almost five years, known her character for five years. Then she has this blip,” says Bulldogs women’s soccer coach Brian Zwaschka, who chose Johansson as team captain.

“I don’t condone the behavior. I’m not happy about it. But it’s a blip compared to everything else I know about her.”

If you have any aptitude for the ethnic origin of names, you’ve probably guessed Johansson is Swedish. She is. Her hometown of Gävle tallied 71,000 residents in the last census (13th largest in Sweden) and is home to a train museum and another dedicated to prisons.

When she arrived at Fresno State in the fall of 2012, Johansson’s biggest obstacle was language. Even though she had studied English and could read and write it, understanding lectures well enough to take notes proved a struggle. The soccer part wasn’t much easier. She had a difficult time understanding terms and processing information in split seconds.

“I couldn’t really be the player that I am now,” Johansson says. “Now I know the terms and I know how to coach other people and how to express myself. In the beginning I couldn’t be that. I could only be half of myself, which was hard.”

Johansson received four B’s during her freshman year. Ever since, it has been straight A’s in her international business major. Her GPA is 3.9. She’s been on the Dean’s List and President’s List four times. She’s been named a Mountain West Scholar Athlete each of the past three years and Academic all-MW the past two.

Speaking with Johansson on Thursday, before the Bulldogs departed for what turned out to be a season-ending loss to San Jose State, I can detect a faint accent. Others tell her they can’t.

“When I tell people I’m from Sweden they are usually surprised because it’s a small country and people don’t know about it,” she says. “Or people know a little about Sweden and they’ll tell me, ‘Oh, Ikea. Oh, meatballs.’ It’s generally something like that.”

Johansson laughs as she says this, and you laugh along with her. Ikea, meatballs and Volvo? Yup, that about sums up our collective Swedish knowledge.

In that moment Johansson becomes a real person, someone with whom you’re sitting there sharing a laugh. Not just a mugshot or a name being charged with public drunkenness.

Such is the world we live in. Johansson can spend four years at Fresno State, play in 62 women’s soccer matches and get her name in the newspaper twice (once when she signed; a second time when she scored a winning goal).

But since the night of Sept. 20, the night Johansson was in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the wrong company, her name has been in the paper six times.

Johansson’s attorney, Hristo Bijev, isn’t a native English speaker, either.

But Bijev put it as succinctly as possible: “If the two other people from the football team were not involved, probably nobody would have known about Fanny.”

So I guess my intent is to help balance the scales. Because Johansson deserves to be known for some of the things she’s done right during her four years here and not just the biggest thing she’s done wrong.

Alyssa Cruz, her teammate and friend, describes Johansson as a huge source of motivation and inspiration. Someone who sets a standard and keeps her focused.

“Academically, she’s pushed me the most,” Cruz says. “When we’re in the library or Starbucks and I start getting off task, like talking about Instagram, she’ll be like, ‘Cruz, you know why we’re here.’ 

Jeff Brueggemann, a Fresno State lecturer who has taught Johansson in three classes, describes her as a good student and cheerful presence who consistently gets high marks for content, teamwork and organization.

“I like being her instructor,” Brueggemann says. “She adds a different quality coming from Sweden. She’s a hard worker and is just a pleasant person to be around.”

Johansson declined to answer a few questions about her arrest, and for good reason. Unlike Zack Greenlee and Brandon Hughes, who pleaded no contest during a Wednesday hearing, Bijev entered a not guilty plea on her behalf. (Bijev told me he was only recently retained and did not have sufficient time to review the police report or complaint. Her next court date is Nov. 18.)

So while certain details that have surfaced (like her being “verbally abusive to officers”) don’t paint a flattering portrait, there’s always more to the picture.

In this case, it’s one of a young woman who aims to continue playing soccer professionally, and perhaps coach, before attending grad school or law school and pursuing a career as a trade analyst or business lawyer.

Someone who I believe will go on to represent Fresno State in a positive light.

Someone who deserves to be known around here for more than a minor arrest.

“I think now I have more possibilities than if I would’ve stayed home,” Johansson says. “I would’ve obviously gone to college in Sweden, but I think coming here has opened more doors for me.”