Catching up with Ryerson legends: Kelcey Wright Johnson, a trailblazer in sports journalism

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By Libaan Osman

A few years ago, Kelcey Wright Johnson was covering high school basketball for $25 a game—just to get her name out there.

Now she has one of the best jobs in sports journalism, working as a sideline and television host for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Before making it big in the sports journalism industry, she was juggling life as a student-athlete—Wright Johnson is a former guard for the Ryerson Rams women’s basketball team.

She joined the Rams in 2009 after her former high school basketball coach in Brampton and her father both joined the coaching staff at Ryerson. It became the perfect fit.

During her final season at Ryerson, she led the team in scoring. She averaged 13.8 points per game while hitting a team-high of 40 three-pointers. Wright Johnson shot 83.1 per cent from the free throw line, ranking second in Ontario University Athletics and eighth in the country.

Throughout her university basketball career, Wright Johnson played under four coaches in a span of five seasons. No one compared to Sandy Pothier, who passed away from cancer in January 2012.

“[Pothier] was actually the person who got me into journalism,” Wright Johnson said. “Coming out of Grade 11, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or apply for.”

“She said ‘I’d think you’d make a really great journalist.’ The only reason I’m where I am today in journalism is because of her,” added Wright Johnson.

Thanks to the advice of Pothier, Wright Johnson went to the Ryerson School of Journalism—and it turned out to be all that she could have hoped for. She enjoyed being thrown into different situations that helped prepare her for what was to come in the industry.

Once she wrapped up her four years at Rye, she wanted to continue playing basketball and transferred to Western University for her fifth and final season of eligibility, while seamlessly entering their masters of journalism program.

“As soon as college was done, I knew that it was probably the end of my basketball career and that’s why I pushed so hard to do a one-year master’s,” said Wright Johnson. “When you love something so much, for me, it would’ve been harder to let it go knowing that I had another year.”

That’s how much the game of basketball means to Wright Johnson.

She knew she had the knowledge gained from being a competitive varsity athlete and just needed to establish a name for herself in the sports media industry.

And she did just that, starting from the ground up covering high school basketball in Ontario while knocking on doors every chance she got.

“Every six months probably, I knocked on the door of the head guy at TSN. Looking back, it’s so ridiculous,” said Wright Johnson.

Eventually, they answered. With her knowledge of high school basketball, she was asked to cover the BioSteel All Canadian Games, which featured the top 24 female and male high school players in the country.

From there, the floodgates opened.

A couple months later, she was working with Canada Basketball and DAZN covering the World Cup qualifiers in July 2018. She also reported at the Gatorade Awards, ESPYS and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In early November, Wright Johnson became the first Canadian female to work on-air in the National Basketball Association (NBA), as a sideline reporter for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Wright Johnson not only established herself but became a household name across the Canadian sports media and journalism landscape.

“I’m trying to open the door and then hold it open for the next girl to come by and not slamming it behind me”

Along the way, she has also encountered the hardships of being a woman in a male-dominated field. Her work brings unnecessary comments from trolls online questioning her knowledge and appearance.

“Social media is the worst place on Earth [with] everyone being anonymous online. It’s actually really scary,” said Wright Johnson. “I would not want you to go through my DM’s—I’ll say that. That’s just a part of being in the public eye in a male arena.”

Having developed a thick skin through her playing career, Wright Johnson takes it all in stride.

“I’m trying to open the door and then hold it open for the next girl to come by and not slamming it behind me,” said Wright Johnson. “I’m excited for this to be the first opportunity for more to come.”

Wright Johnson has built a strong relationship with women in sports across Canada as they continue to help each other network, pitch ideas and look out for one another.

“We all know each other because we have to stick together,” said Wright Johnson. “It’s about supporting each other because a lot of the time we’re torn down online. It’s discussing how we can progress forward when a lot of people are dragging [us] back.”

As Wright Johnson looks to open the door for other female sports journalists, she’s reminded of those that helped her along the way. She looks up to Allie Clifton, a former sideline reporter for the Cleveland Cavaliers and current studio host with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since I’ve been here”

Clifton has been one of the biggest supporters of Wright Johnson throughout her career. Clifton has been a mentor, while also writing her a letter for a visa application to come to the U.S.

While working with the Grizzlies, Wright Johnson is also a digital contributor and host with Grind City Media, a site that goes behind the scenes with players and coaches and provides analysis on everything Memphis Grizzlies.

The former Ryerson guard is living the dream in Memphis and is excited to get to know the people of the city and produce content that excites fans.

“From the very start, the NBA was always my dream, always the goal,” said Wright Johnson. “I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since I’ve been here.”

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