Graphic by Kayleen Dicuangco
“I’ve discovered that the more authentic I am, the more things flow my way.”
By Natasha Boateng
Date March 1, 2023
We’re continuing to honour Black excellence beyond Black History Month by amplifying Black Canadian media trailblazers who are achieving incredible firsts, creating new paths and inspiring others along the way.
A graduate of Toronto’s College of Sports Media, award-winning broadcaster Kayla Grey started out as an intern for the Toronto Argonauts before venturing to Winnipeg as a beat news reporter and later Prince Rupert, British Columbia to cover local sports. Today, the 30-year-old mother of one is an anchor for SportsCentre on TSN (her 2018 debut on the network made her the first Black woman to host a flagship sports highlight show in Canada), a sideline reporter for the Toronto Raptors, and co-producer and host of The Shift, a game-changing show she launched on TSN.ca in 2021 that covers topics at the intersection of sports, life and culture. Here, Grey talks to FASHION about her show, her personal style and the importance of being your true self.
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On how The Shift came to be:
“The Shift came out of frustration [with] what I was not seeing in media. I felt like there wasn’t a place that was allowing certain viewers and audiences to feel seen and heard and I was done just talking about it. So I started putting in the work by thinking about, if I were to have a show in sports that made me feel seen or heard, and that didn’t require me having to stream American ESPN to see myself represented on television, what would it look like? Once I came up with the show idea and how I wanted it to look, I eventually went into a brand partnership at TSN who helped me pitch it to Dell at the time.
“I created The Shift during a time when there was a lot of trauma within marginalized communities being highlighted. I wanted the show to be a place where that was spoken about and where we could hold space for the really rough and tough conversations that needed to be had. But, I also high key wanted it to be a place where it also really highlighted joy — Black joy. I thought that, as media, we weren’t doing a good job in terms of balance — talking about a community’s lack but also highlighting what a community has. The Black community already knows what it doesn’t have. I feel like there needs to be reminders of what we do — of what we have done and what we can create. Reminders of the groundwork that we have already laid and where we’re headed next. I wanted a show that really embodied all of that.”
On pushback and difficulties she faced along the way:
“There were naysayers who would comment like, ‘Oh, she’s just getting a show because she’s Black and because of the climate right now. This is the trend right now.’ There was definitely that element to it. But at some point you have to turn off the noise and do your thing and understand that I’ve put in years and years into my craft and my place in this industry. I would expect good things to happen to someone who works incredibly hard to position themselves.
“There was also [pressure of feeling] like the show had to make sense to everybody — even to people it probably would never make sense to in the first place. I faced comments like, ‘It’s not going work. It’s not going resonate.’ I think when you push something on the mainstream, you always have these thoughts in the back of your head like, how is this content digestible? How is it going to be monetized? But often, you’re gearing those types of questions towards a white audience only. I had to let go of all of that to prove that it could be done — and not only done well but received well, too.”
On overcoming biases and microagressions throughout her career:
“I remember someone had the audacity during my very first on-air experience to tell me that ‘Someone who looks like you should be lucky that you even have a job.’ And with me being a woman — a Black woman — around professional athletes, there have been people over the years (never the players themselves) who have objectified me. To them it’s like, ‘God forbid this ‘object’ actually has something to say about sports. She must be here for other reasons.’ It sometimes feels like, as a woman in this industry, you are hyper-sexualized in that sense. Also, when you start to advocate for yourself as a Black woman, some people can often take that as ‘she’s angry’ or ‘she’s defiant.’ That’s how you’re automatically described when you set boundaries for yourself. So for the longest time, as a result, I would dress a certain way and talk a certain way — hide my true light so that I could fly under the radar and not be seen as ‘other,’ because I just wanted to feel safe at work and safe in this industry. Eventually, I had to check myself because it was taking so much energy trying to be who I’m not and I knew I wouldn’t get far playing that game. I’ve discovered that the more authentic I am, the more things flow my way.”
More on being a woman in the sports space:
“It’s still a very male-dominated industry, but there are a bunch of women that have entered the game. I’m seeing sideline reporting done by predominantly women. I’m seeing more women in front office positions, in tech and also in the sports science space, which is great! But it’s been this old boys club for a very, very long time, so certain conversations have been slow moving — there are certain rules that haven’t been made, boundaries that haven’t been established. It’s one thing to have women in this space, it’s another to make us feel safe, supported and like we are allowed to have a sense of balance. Like when I got pregnant with my son, I remember not wanting to tell anyone for months, and trying to figure out how my professional and personal goals could coexist — because it felt like the groundwork had been laid for them not to be able to coexist. It’s not like anyone had told me that flat out, but it felt like there was this unwritten rule or suggestion that once you have a baby your career is done. That it’s time to find something else. That’s the assumption I had and I know it didn’t just come out of nowhere. It wasn’t a story that I was simply telling myself. So I rushed back six weeks after I gave birth because I felt like I was going to be forgotten about.”
How fashion and personal style play a critical role:
“I know I have a great personality — I love who I am — and I’m really learning to enjoy it by expressing myself more, especially through the clothes I wear. I like to play in both the masculine and feminine worlds with my style; I adore my sneakers but can easily go into a heel, and I feel good in a nice dress moment or even a tech fleece. To me, fashion gives my personality permission to show up. It helps me get into the mindset that I can be whoever I want to be on any day. I’m not saying that I adapt my personality to my clothes. It’s more that clothes allow me to adopt the concept of, ‘Kayla, you are many things and you are allowed to be many things — and those many things look pretty dope, too.’ I feel like I do my job that much better coming at it with a certain confidence because, for me, my outfits help set the tone.”
On her relationship with beauty:
“I love to play with my hair and I love a good nighttime routine: heavy face cream, eye cream — all of those things. I really believe in the practice of settling down and ‘taking off’ the day. And I love to play with makeup. I think because for so long I wasn’t getting makeup artists who knew how to properly work with my skin tone — today I work with a really good artist — I found fun in watching YouTube and Instagram videos (these days I’m all about TikTok) and learning how to do things on my own. They made me fall in love with the process of getting ready and knowing that I have the tools myself to make myself look my best.”
On the future of The Shift:
“I see The Shift becoming a completely different show, owned by a completely different network and produced by a completely different person. What I’ve created is just a starting point. I want someone else to eventually go out there and create the next Shift, but like ten times better with ten times more resources. I want The Shift to be a testament to what you can do when you put pen down to paper from your ideas and actually see them through. I hope that the show sparks others to go for it in their own ways, and not limit or cap things. I want abundance for what the show has already brought and the team and staff behind it that I’m so lucky to work alongside. Bigger, greater things ahead are what I see.”