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If you’ve been following sports in recent years, you’ve likely heard the words “player empowerment” tossed around. Of course, depending on who it’s come from, the term might hold several (very different) connotations. If you ask players, agents, and fans, the age of player empowerment has been a long overdue shift towards athletes dictating their career paths with more agency than ever before. Not only does this refer to greater flexibility in contract negotiations but also – and perhaps far more importantly – players reclaiming their voices off the court.

Draymond Green, Candace Parker, and CJ Mccollum are just a small selection of NBA and WNBA stars who have taken the reins of their narratives by getting in front of the microphone between game days. Naturally, some have a vested interest against this new power structure, most namely being front office executives and beat writers still lamenting on the “good old days” of sports, whatever that means.

But like it or not, this new era of sports is here to stay and perhaps no one is more comfortable in the age of player empowerment than WNBA star and TSN broadcaster, Kia Nurse.

“That confidence came from my parents. They instilled it in all of us from the beginning,” she explains, referring to her siblings, Tamika – a former NCAA basketball star in her own right – and Darnell, an Edmonton Oilers defenceman. “I think one of the core things that [our father] always said to us growing up was, ‘You’re always going to be good at whatever you do. You have natural talents.’ […]. But he also said, ‘There’s always gonna be someone who’s behind you who’s coming to catch you. And so if you wanna be the best, you have to keep getting better.’ That was something that helped us move forward. We were never really allowed to accept just ‘average’.”

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Of course, when Nurse accepted her offer to UCONN, she made sure to be anything but. That being said, “average” is a relative term. When she arrived in Connecticut, she found herself not only playing for the most storied program and head coach in women’s basketball but alongside teammates that would go on to be dominant WNBA talents. Yet just a handful of games into the season, head coach Geno Auriemma called Nurse into his office. At 18 years old, she’d earned her spot as a starter.

“If I look at today’s game, my dad would be considered ‘old school’,” she laughs. “You know, earn everything that you want, go out there, and take a job. That was my mentality in college and that was the first thing he said to me when I got drafted to the WNBA. ‘You got the opportunity. Now go take a job.’ When I look at my life on the court and my life in the broadcast world and my life in general, it’s about earning everything, being competitive, and understanding that even though you’re good at something, somebody’s chasing you. You can always be better.”

Nurse went on to become a two-time National Champion at UCONN (amongst a list of individual accolades that are too long to list) before being selected to the New York Liberty in the first round. Five years later and her career has sent her to Seattle, still driven by the same defensive prowess that earned her the starting job during her freshman year; old school, the way her dad taught her. And yet “old school” feels far too limiting a term for a player who’s ushering in a new era of sports behind the broadcast desk.

“I definitely wouldn’t say I started the movement to get in front of the mic,” she says. “There are players like Candance [Parker] who really paved the way for us and women like Kate Beirness who helped make room for women behind the desk years ago. She’s been such a mainstay and a pillar of what we do here. She was one of the first hosts I ever worked with her and she made such an effort to help me along.”

Nurse notes that, at first, she struggled to hit her marks during a broadcast but that those were merely necessary growing pains. Today, she jokes that her producers call her a one-take-wonder.

“But, of course, Doris Burke is another figure that everyone in media – not just women – is trying to chase. I remember seeing her in person when we were playing in the Final Four at UCONN. I was star struck. Now, I’m just so grateful for both of them.”

Yet Nurse has brought the movement north of the border to a new country and generation that might not have had the chance to resonate with Parker and Burke when they first joined their respective broadcasts. Now, they look to Nurse, the one-take-wonder behind the desk representing empowerment for both women athletes and sports analysts alike.

“She’s a rockstar,” says Beirness when asked about her colleague during a phone call with Glory Sports a few weeks later. “Seriously. We talk about how much work it is to prepare for each game. And yet there she is, more prepared than anyone else in the room, and she has another career going on at the same time. […] Oh, and that career happens to involve her being one of the best athletes in the world. That’s insane. Right?”

Call it insane or inspiring, “old school” or “new school.” Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you label it. The result of Nurse’s impact is the same: empowerment for the next generation of athletes seeking to own their voice, take jobs, and surpass the average.

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