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Women In Sports Interview Series: Kelsey Nicole Nelson works hard every day to prove she belongs

Kelsey Nicole Nelson did not come from a wealthy family. Growing up, she attended different day cares and had the odds stacked against her. However, sports provided a much-needed diversion for Nelson given that both of her parents’ played sports as well as volunteering on the weekends.

“My parents were not doctors, had to work so hard and made sure I had a comfortable childhood,” said Nelson. “My parents were always involved on the weekends and volunteered. They were always giving back to the community and making sure the future of the community is growing and lives on. I played soccer, tennis, basketball and volleyball. Watching games on TV, I loved sports.”

“My dad went to Grambling State University,” Nelson explained. “I grew up in a football family that is from the South and put football next to church. My Mom played tennis in college, and had a cousin that played volleyball overseas in Germany.”

A breakthrough moment would occur for Nelson through an organization Most Valuable Kids (MVK) in Washington, D.C.

“Because of this group I was able to go to my first game at the MCI Center that is now Capital One Arena where the (Washington) Wizards and Georgetown play,” Nelson remarked. “They helped underprivileged youth go to sports and concert events. Up in the nose bleed seats, my first time going into an arena, everything clicked and felt like home. I got to see players, sideline reporters and broadcasters.”

(Photo courtesy of Kelsey Nicole Nelson)

Double G Sports: What journalism experience did you have while attending high school and college?

Kelsey Nicole Nelson: I was the managing editor for our high school newspaper called “The Howl” and part of the high first year graduating class from (Clarksburg) high school. I got to be editor-in-chief for two years and got experience in the newspaper and yearbook side of journalism. I had to go around interviewing, questioning people and even taking photos and breaking stories on what’s happening at our school. From English and AP Government, I got a hold of my journalism skills. I carried those skills to the University of Maryland/Phillip Merrill School of Journalism. This is what I wanted to do the rest of my life, the work that goes into it and putting in so many hours.

I did an internship in grad school, participating in a FOX Sports class. In my group, we won a marketing competition and had a chance to go to the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I did my first demo reel with Comcast Sports Net Washington through an internship.

DGS: What teachers in high school and college helped you succeed in the journalism field?

KNN: In high school, Sara Goodman (Journalism Teacher/Newspaper Advisor) and Jeanne Tufano ( Yearbook/Teacher). In college Lou Holder (Sports Journalism professor), Mark Gray (Sports Journalism Professor), Jamie Forzato (Radio Professor), Danny Jacobs (Introduction to News Writing Professor) and Kevin Blackistone (Sports Reporting and Writing Professor).

DGS: Can you describe some of the jobs you have held since you graduated college?

KNN: I attended the NSMA (National Sports Media Association) conference in Winston Salem, North Carolina and met the owner of the group, Dave Goren, and he followed me since then and wanted to do a podcast. I had not done too much voice over work, something that pushed and propelled me out of my comfort zone. I really got to showcase my skills and talk about a variety of topics. The first episode we did was about concussions.

I’m doing sideline reporting for Georgetown football, working with a group They are contracted and games are shown on the Patriot League Network and locally on DCW 50. I went to Georgetown grad school and have a special connection with them. I grew up in the area and went to Georgetown football and basketball games and am very familiar with the coaches and players. Doing sideline football is just incredible. I’m the host of “Listen in with KNN” on Fox Sports Radio 1340 AM & 96.9 FM, Host/Reporter of “The Roundball Report”, Reporter/Analyst of “The Sideline Report” and Contributor for Black Sports Online (BSO). I’ve done live shows for charity events including the Prostate for Cancer Walk/Run and Crawfish for Cancer.

I’m covering the WNBA, I grew up going to Washington Mystics games and watching Alana Beard, Coco Miller and Bernice Miller in what was then the MCI Center. I had posters of Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes in my room and growing up I idolized them. As a former basketball player, I worked hard to learn their skills as I idolized their ball play. Women’s basketball is technical, fundamental and it’s fun quality basketball which is why I love the WNBA. The WNBA fans are unique as they love the game and support the team not matter what! They bring a different knowledge to the game and their passion shines through.

I’m a Capstone Advisor for Georgetown University and work with grad students on their thesis projects. Not a full ranking professor title but I get to fill out my experience working in the industry and podcasting. Teaching the next generation and the whole thing is the students’ get to work on Slam Radio XM, the only course with a radio station and run by the students.

I was introduced to a great group called Academica, they were truly amazing and essentially got connected with them and they started following my work. I was featured on one of their podcast shows, sports reporting and hosting. They had this idea of starting a brand new course, Introduction to Radio and Podcasting and the opportunity was awesome for me because they reached out to me. Being a college professor at 27 years-old is something I thought about.

I coach with Larry Milan, they call him “The Amigo” down in Doral, Florida and I’m based back up here in DC (District of Columbia) and they allow me to video teach the course and I talk to them through online video. I met him down at the Super Bowl on radio row and what an experience. I will go down there a couple of times in person and help facilitate different aspects of the course. It’s so much and a true honor. A packed class that I helped build from scratch and great to be part of this from infancy and had done before.

DGS: What sports reporters did you look up to?

KNN: I remember watching Robin Roberts, Jemele Hill, Pam Oliver, Cari Champion, Lisa Salters, Lesley Visser, Christine Brennan and Cindy Brunson. I’ve always wanted to be the Oprah of the sports reporting world with the ability to galvanize a local, national and international audience. I also loved how sports hosts and reporters were able to story tell and showcase the power of sports.

DGS: You have volunteered with a number of organizations. Which ones stand out the most?

KNN: The Steve Smith Football Camp. Giving back to the community, keeping youth active and healthy and letting kids having fun. I got to run drills with the kids, help with registration and sign-up. A full day event and what makes it really special is it was held at a military base. Working with kids that had a parent that was deployed. To bring joy to the youth is something I will never forget and remember.

NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) Co-Leader on Task Force Ambassador program. Diversity is very near and dear to my heart being a black woman. I have attended a bunch of conferences and mentor panels. As a diversity coordinator, I basically try to make sure everyone is in the room and have as much representation as possible. A huge believer in that and have an affair and accurate synopsis of what happens.

A phenomenal group to be part of, A. Sherrod Blakely is our leader and President of the Sports Task Force and hand-picked me. It’s about giving back to the youth and younger members. They are college students, journalists and young employees in the sports world. Analis Bailey is a fellow here in Washington, D.C. for USA Today and me and her check in and she asks me questions and tells me about her own challenges she is facing and we talk about it. I use my own experiences to help her.

(Photo provided by Kelsey Nicole Nelson. Credit: Ann-Marie VanTassell)

DGS: What are some of the challenges you have faced as a sports reporter?

KNN: Being a black woman in sports media, I love being a black woman and wouldn’t change it for the world. Sometimes society uses us as the bottom of the barrel and since I’m a minority and both being a black woman and African-American and woman people are not expecting the most out of me. In general, you have men who think you don’t know sports in terms of football. I didn’t play football but did play in the NFL Passing/Flag Football League and you would think this is the 1900’s. You live in a world where you see racist things and always challenging and questioning you more. Some people don’t want me doing something because of the color of my skin or I have the right to do something.

You face racism, sexism, and just ignorant people. Being a woman, people sometimes assume you only got somewhere on your looks and actual did any credible work. We’re judged on size, face and clothing more. There is pressure to be perfect more and outwork more because we have so many barriers to break down. There have been times when I’m the only woman in the locker room and black woman. When race sometimes comes up, black people expect you to have an automatic answer and speak for the whole race.

When I did radio row at the Super Bowl it was easier for people to come find and identify men because I’m one of the few black women that were on radio row. The old boys culture, I have to prove so much to be in the room because there is no one like me and convince them why I’m the one who needs to come through that door and lot harder because there are so many barriers.

It goes back to inequalities and racism and trying to fight and knock down. People getting a certain mind set and not going to change no matter who you are and what you can do. You have to have really tough and thick skin to survive in this industry and got a million of No’s but there was a Yes out there and found it.

DGS: What does Women’s History Month and Women in Sports mean to you?

KNN: We continue to break barriers, touch the untouchable, shake the unshakable and reach the untouchable and that’s what it’s about. Progress and advancement, we’re still trying to get that equality and paid less than our male colleagues for the same type of work and forced into stereotypes. We’re putting a crack in that glass ceiling and making sure we have a seat at the table and voices listened to and heard by others at the table.

A great time to recognize those who came before and thank them for their contributions and all they have done to pave the way for us and we’re paving the way for other younger leaders and women behind us. It’s still bewildering to me that people are looking up to me. I did two panels at the University of Maryland and DCPS (District of Columbia Public Schools) Washington, D.C. So many girls coming to me and saying how they wanted to meet me and loved my work and what I do.

Here I’m figuring out my own journey and people are following my journey and it’s incredible. I remember people that I used to look up to and shows everything you do matters, people counting on you and you are a role model. You get to meet people who love your work, rely on it and appreciate your work and no greater feeling than that. Inspiring the next generation is the best feeling in the world.

DGS: What is your advice for aspiring female journalists?

KNN: Know you’re always supposed to be in the room. You create your own destiny. If you see a place you want to be, make sure you’re prepared when the opportunity comes. Every day is an audition for the job you want the rest of your life and your social media should reflect that. Be aggressive and fight for what you want. With this comes network, any room you are in someone should know your name in a positive way. Reach back and give back as you continue. Make sure that you not only create for other women at the table, but also make sure you fight for your voice and their voice to be heard.

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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