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Journalism grad lands job as first Canadian female NBA host in U.S.

‘If it’s what you think you’re meant to do, don’t stop,’ says Kelcey Wright Johnson
By: Lindsey Craig
January 10, 2020
Two sports commentators speaking to each other courtside on-air

Ryerson journalism grad Kelcey Wright Johnson is the only Canadian female NBA host in the U.S.A. Photo: Fox Sports Southeast.

In 2014, Kelcey Wright Johnson, external link landed her first job in journalism. As the industry grappled with the digital era, by 2015, she had been laid-off twice.

From there, she managed to string together a series of writing and on-camera gigs, including working with TSN, DAZN Canada, Yahoo Canada Sports, and the Toronto Argos and Toronto Marlies (through Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment).

While it was exciting, none of it was permanent.

By 2019 – it was a whole new ball game for the Ryerson journalism grad: Wright Johnson landed her dream job as NBA host and digital contributor for the Memphis Grizzlies, making her the only Canadian female NBA host in the U.S.A.

“If it’s what you think you’re meant to do, don’t stop,” said the 29-year-old, who studied journalism at Ryerson from 2009-2013.

“It would have been so easy to quit, but if you really love something, perseverance is key,” she said.

As we’re chatting, Wright Johnson is walking to her new office – the FedExForum, where the Grizzlies play. Since her work visa only came through in November, she only moved there fairly recently – and hosted her first game on Dec. 3, 2019.

Was she nervous?

“Not at all, I’d waited for so long for the opportunity. Your athletic competiveness comes out – it’s just like in sport. You put in all the work and do all the prep – when the camera turns on you’re ready to go – just like when the ball’s thrown up,” she said, likening the opening of a broadcast to the tip-off of a basketball game.

If it’s starting to sound like basketball is in her blood – you’re right.

Her mom, Penny Wright, is the first female to referee a men’s university basketball game in Canada (“she’s a trailblazer of her own,” Wright Johnson said), her dad, Rob Wright, is co-chair of Basketball Canada, and her husband is also a coach.

“For my brother and I growing up, that’s just what you did – you played basketball,” she said, adding that she holds the record for the highest number of three-pointers in a four-year career for the Ryerson Rams.

Kelcey Wright Johnson

Kelcey Wright Johnson says as a female NBA host, she’s held to a higher professional standard than her male counterparts. Photo: Instagram.

‘Not easy to be a female’ in male-dominated game

While combining her two loves – basketball and journalism – seems an obvious choice, it wasn’t always so clear in her mind.

Years ago, she was inspired by a book her grandma gave her about a foreign correspondent – Fifteen Days, by Christie Blatchford.

But during her post-graduate degree (more journalism training and the chance to keep playing varsity basketball), she won an internship to cover the World University Games in Russia.

“When I got back from that, I was like, ‘I need to be in sports,’” she said.

“As a woman you have to make sure your sports knowledge is 100 times more than your male counterpart.”

Sports journalist Kelcey Wright Johnson

It was a realization she’s held on to, despite challenges that are particular to sports journalism – especially for women.

“It’s not easy to be a female, I can tell you that,” she said.

To illustrate, she says when she released her first podcast, external link featuring two star players, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., half the comments were about the content – and half were about her.

Some suggested she got the job through improper means. Others said she was “too fat or too skinny.”

She also says she’s held to a different standard professionally.

“As a woman you have to make sure your sports knowledge is 100 times more than your male counterpart,” she said.

“My male co-host could say it’s a ‘high percentage shooting team.’ But if I said that, people would be like, ‘She doesn’t know her stats.’ So I have to be able to say, ‘They’re shooting 61 per cent from the field,’” she explained. “I feel like I have to over-prepare for everything.”

From left: Kelcey Wright Johnson, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Kelcey Wright Johnson interviews Grizzlies’ star players Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. for her podcast. Photo: JUST GRIZZLIES PODCAST.

Praises Ryerson journalism school

Ryerson helped prepare her for the job, she said, noting “they throw everything at you, it’s the best school for a reason.” She praises professors Gary Gould and Paul Woods and adds that Ryerson’s downtown location is a huge advantage for budding storytellers.

Given the journey she’s been on, what would she say to future journalists?

To both males and females interested in sports media, she cautions it takes far more than being a sports fan to succeed.

“You have to really love the journalism side more than the basketball side. Because, take yesterday, for example – the basketball side was two hours, but the journalism side was 13,” she said.

She also says, given the challenges of an evolving industry, digital skills are crucial, noting major networks are building new digital studios and social media teams are vital.

Lastly, she says, “Learn to take rejection, because you’re going to be rejected a billion times before someone says yes.”

But, as she knows firsthand, “It takes just one yes.”

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