Kayla Grey is, and has always been, a storyteller.
In 2018, when she became the first Black Canadian woman to host a flagship sports highlights show, she told the stories of some of the most monumental moments in sports. By 2019, as she rode atop the Toronto Raptors bus beside Norman Powell at the Championship parade, she had already become one of the nation’s favourite voices to listen to as she reported on the celebrations of the city, the country, and their favourite basketball team.
Today, in addition to her anchoring and sideline reporting, Grey tells stories that focus on the intersection of sports, life, and culture, opening up conversations on identity and representation on and off the court on her TSN show, The Shift.
Now on its second season and celebrating its one-year anniversary, the journalist says she’s incredibly proud of the show’s team, who have dedicated restless nights and busy schedules to deliver stories that spark new ideas and provoke change in the world of sports.
“I’m proud of the conversations we’ve had, the issues we’ve been able to spotlight, and the joy we’ve been able to highlight,” Grey says.
“I want people to understand that The Shift is not going to just be a space that spotlights trauma. Our culture is so amazing and dope and full of joy,” she says. “I’m so incredibly proud of everyone for pouring into [the show] the way that they have and for trusting my vision with it, and I just can’t wait where we take things for year two.”
Over the past year, The Shift has covered everything from basketball to inclusivity-driven sports programs to sneaker drops. While the journalism happening on television makes up a large portion of Grey’s focus, she emphasizes the importance of advocating for what she stands for on-air just as much as behind the scenes once the cameras are no longer rolling and it’s just her crew looking back at her.
Much like the interviews she conducts on the show, Grey asks herself her own set of questions, holding herself accountable as a decision-making figure and leader in the industry.
“What does a safe working environment look like, and is that The Shift? Do the staff feel empowered? Do they feel supported? You have to do multiple gut checks as a boss just to make sure that everyone is feeling comfortable,” she says, before expanding into one of the show’s top priorities: inclusivity.
“I think that’s the one thing in this industry, that while we’ve hired so many diverse faces, there’s never a plan after,” she says. “What does development look like? That, to me, is something I try to be incredibly intentional about. Where do people want to go and how can we support them there?”
Intention and integrity are other aspects of the profession that Grey prioritizes, regularly checking in on her own reasons for the topics and issues she touches on.
“We’ve had a lot of tough conversations, some that have dealt with domestic violence, abuse, addiction, and I don’t think that we’re able to hold space for those conversations if we don’t get back to our ‘Why,’” she says. “Why are we doing it? Who are we doing it for? What are we hoping to achieve with it?”
The Shift’s audience is predominantly women, Grey says, adding that the demographic breakdown is her favourite stat about the show. Because of that knowledge, she says, The Shift has been able to highlight multiple professional women’s leagues that have predominantly women fan bases and the WNBA.
“That’s the shift that I’m seeing in terms of where I want to focus my energy and the people that I do want to engage with and make sure that they know that they’re seen,” she says.
While her goals are constantly evolving, an unwavering objective she has for the coming year is to integrate community outreach into The Shift’s coverage and involvement.
“Whether it’s community initiatives or making sure that we’re on the courts, if it comes to mentorship programs, we’re the ones raising our hands first to make sure that the next generation of broadcasters have that space to come try and shadow if they want to,” she says. “That’s where I see the goal post moving.”
Ultimately, Grey wants the movement of The Shift (and what it stands for) to “feel like home,” where communities and audiences can engage or interact freely, and where more racialized and women journalists can feel safe entering the industry.
“Once you knock down a door, you better be looking behind you to make sure that there’s more people that are coming through,” Grey says.
“I’m so proud of young, Black journalists, particularly women that are making their way into this space. I want to see way more Indigenous voices, too,” she says. “I think that that’s a conversation where I have to check myself as well when it comes to what we should be pushing for, fighting for people who don’t necessarily look like us as well.”
As she makes a push for change in both the sports and the media landscape, Grey implements a shift in her own practice of storytelling, giving it new meaning in various mediums, whether it be speaking to a camera at a sports news desk or in front of hundreds of youth at community events or panels.
“I understand that stories can help change lives, they can inspire people, and help leave behind a blueprint for the next generation,” she says. “When I think of what it means for Kayla to make it, it’s to do exactly what she was called to do, which is to tell stories.”
And in whichever medium she chooses, the stories told will surely be worth a listen.
Photography: Wade Hudson
Photo Assistants: Karolina Pran, Elle Alconcel, Ebti Nabag
Stylist: Shea Hurley/Plutino
Styling Assistant: Esme McBride
Hair: Jordan Rodney
Makeup: Daneille Mattis
Video and Audio: Elaine Fancy and Spencer Bell
Shot on location at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto.