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Alumni Spotlight

Gridiorn Insider

January 30, 2023

Working in creative production at NFL Films, Kelly Bright’s, ’17, day-to-day life is enough to make your head spin.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, you might find her poring over football game footage from the weekend, cutting together segments for both in-house and NFL-partner projects. (“We own all the rights to all of our football footage,” she explains.)

The rest of her week might be dedicated to researching stories and editing segments for Peyton’s Place or Eli’s Place, the two shows she helps to produce for ESPN+. Or reviewing the mountains of footage generated for HBO’s viral reality show hit Hard Knocks, cherry- picking moments that are sure to connect with an audience. (The show, which uses 30- plus cameras, follows an underdog team as they attempt to mount a comeback season.)

On weekends, you’ll probably find her on the sidelines or behind the scenes, conducting interviews with players or football coaching legends like University of Alabama’s Nick Saban or Notre Dame’s Hall of Fame Head Coach Lou Holtz.

For now, Bright’s career demands long, unpredictable hours, particularly in these early years while she’s “paying her dues.” You won’t hear any complaints, though. To her, it is nothing short of a dream come true.

“It’s kind of a cliché in this industry that when you work in sports, it doesn’t feel like work, but I can truly attest that is the case,” she says with a grin.

HEART

At the heart of Bright’s work is an enthusiasm for storytelling coupled with an infectious and lifelong love of athletics.

She’s passionate about crafting the kind of stories that made her fall in love with sports as a child watching Patriots’ games with her dad. She’s partial to those that inspire an emotional response or forge a human connection, that make sports accessible and meaningful even to those who might not identify as die- hard sports fans.

“People who don’t know football might not understand the coverage of a cover two package defense. But they do understand the story of an underdog facing a giant,” offers Bright.

“Maybe everyone can’t relate to the exact logistical details of the story, but the emotions and themes that come across? We can all relate those to our own lives. For me, good storytelling is about distilling things down to raw emotions so people can connect, understand, and empathize.”

HUSTLE

Bright’s path to storytelling for the NFL is one defined by experiences and lessons learned during her own time on and off the field.

She graduated from Fordham University— chosen for its academic rigor coupled with an exceptional athletics program—with a BA in journalism and an MA in public media in 2022. Located in New York City, Fordham afforded her the unique opportunity to cover both collegiate and professional sports as a student—a rare privilege.

Bright threw herself fully into every opportunity. (Advice she’s quick to share? “When it comes to your career, say yes to everything. If someone gives you an opportunity—even if you think, maybe I’m not good enough, or I don’t have enough experience—take it. You never know where it will take you, the doors it might open, the connections you might make.”)

Her open-minded enthusiasm and perseverance were rewarded with several influential internships—as a digital content producer for Fordham Athletics, a beat reporter covering the New York Knicks for WFUV Public Radio, and, later, as a creative production intern at NFL films. Together, these offered crucial on-the-job experience and network connections that paved the way for her position with NFL Films today.

LEADER

In college, while Bright was hard at work covering some of the biggest names in sports, she was also showing out on the field, racking up an impressive record as a star athlete in her own right. As team captain for the Fordham Rams, she led her Division One softball team to three conference championships.

It’s an impressive achievement that got its start on Cary Academy’s softball diamond when Coach Kevin Jones first asked Bright to step up as team captain. She credits that CA experience for introducing important leadership skills—including accountability and selflessness—that ultimately set her up for success on the collegiate stage.

“Becoming team captain in high school forced me to grow up a little bit. I realized I had other people looking up to me. I had to be accountable, not only to myself, but to others. It forced me to set a higher standard for myself.”

For Bright, that “higher standard” translated to a leadership style and insatiable work ethic that has been directly transferrable, and critical, to her career. (Her personal motto, courtesy of legendary NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice, is “Do today what others won’t, so you can do tomorrow what others can’t.”)

“Being a producer is very similar to being a captain of a team. You must manage multiple groups of people. You have to address the bad and celebrate the good. It’s not just about being in control or being bossy; leadership is about bringing people together around a common goal,” she offers.

“While I’ve hung up my cleats, the leadership lessons I learned, the qualities I developed during that time as captain—those are honestly what’s helped most in my career, more than any discrete skill. I might edit videos for a living, but, really, my success is defined by how I work with a team, how I am able to take on projects, and how I can unite with others to bring out the best work.”

ROLE MODEL

And that’s no small challenge, particularly for a young female journalist making waves in a male-dominated industry.

She recalls one of her very first assignments— as a beat reporter for the New York Knicks—as one of the first times she sensed a double standard: that she would have to prove herself in ways not asked of her male colleagues, that her gender alone could make her an outsider or render her nearly invisible in a pressroom to which she had worked so hard to gain entry.

“The people working in that space, the New York fans—they were pretty old school. On my first day, I walked into the little press room, and it was this Legally Blonde moment. I was wearing a pink blazer. And I looked around the room and it was 20 middle-aged white men all in navy suits. No one said hi; no one even acknowledged me. And I had this moment, this oh, I don’t know if I am supposed to be here.”

It was both a sobering and rallying wake- up call. Thankfully, her breach in confidence was short-lived, bolstered in part by mentors who encouraged her along the way, even inspiring her to tackle gender inequality in sports broadcasting as the subject of her master’s thesis project.

Now, Bright draws strength from the trailblazers that have come before her, many with whom she has been able to establish relationships, icons like Kristin Ledlow, a sports anchor for the NBA, and Candace Parker, a pro-basketball player for the Chicago Sky, who together co-founded and co-host Ledlow and Parker, one of the first podcasts dedicated to the WNBA. She’s proud to work alongside women in her field, like Shannon Furman, the head director of Hard Knocks (NFL Films’s first female director) or cinematographer Hannah Epstein (NFL Films’s sole female cinematographer).

“As sports journalists, we’re all here to do the same job. We may not look alike. We may have completely different backgrounds. We probably have different interests, but I deserve to be in the room just as much as the guy with the suit does. I’m just as capable, just as creative, and talented. There shouldn’t be another standard,” offers a now-confident Bright.

CHANGEMAKER

She is also acutely aware that with her resolve comes a responsibility—at turns heavy and inspiring—to be a role model, to make it easier for those coming behind her.

“I’m here sitting in the production department of NFL Films. How I perform, how I handle my work? That’s going to determine whether or not another woman can come in and have my position in the future,” explains Bright.

“Is that fair? Probably not. But it is the reality. I have to work extra hard because if I want there to be more women in this building, the women that are here now have to do a damn good job.”

And, for Bright, bringing more women in the building is crucial to changing an industry that some have labeled as having a “misogyny problem.”

“The more representation there is—of women, and of people of color as well—the more those coming up can see themselves in these positions, the more they are going to believe these opportunities exist for them.”

Already, Bright is shouldering her responsibility and paying it forward to the next generation of up-and-coming women sports broadcasters. She was recently approached by a Fordham sophomore impressed by her work, who sought advice on an internship opportunity at NFL Films.

Bright immediately jumped in to help, FaceTiming and offering counsel. Her protégé ultimately got the internship, and Bright helped NFL Films bring “another woman in the building.”

“I was so happy to help her, to impact someone else’s career. I’m only 23, and I’m only in the very early stages of my career, but already there is another girl, a 19-year-old, looking to me for advice.”

It was proof positive that Bright is on the right track. In a voice tinged with equal parts gratitude, awe, and resolve, “It was so cool to see,” she said. “This—my work, helping other women—it matters.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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