The landscape of sports journalism is ever changing. Grassroots and individual media outlets have taken the media industry by storm due to mass layoffs and the ability to reach consumers and provide instant access through social media.
For Khristina Williams, being a Black woman attempting to break into major media outlets was a daunting task for the former student-athlete and journalist. Her breakthrough came when she carved out her own niche in the industry by betting on herself and launching Girls Talk Sports TV in 2018, a digital media platform that brings women from the sidelines to the front and center of sports conversation. Girls Talk Sports TV aims to present sports content that is unique, connecting, and engaging for fans (both women and men) directly from their favorite athletes.
“My mission is to give women a voice and visibility in the sports industry,” Williams tells Dime. “I am developing and delivering honest content told by women. A few years ago, when I wanted to get started, no one wanted to give me the opportunity. I saw a lack of representation in terms of women that look like me on the TV screen and on the sidelines. I found it hard to break into the sports broadcasting industry, even with having prior professional reporting experience and a degree in journalism. I was seeking opportunities from all the major media corporations and wasn’t hearing back from them. It was very discouraging.”
With Girls Talk Sports TV, Williams says she married her two passions: sports and journalism. The Hunter College graduate, double majoring in journalism and theater, started as a reporter in fashion and entertainment, appearing on networks like FashionOne, MTV, and WhereIsTheBuzz Media Group.
“During my time at FashionOne, I was a fashion and entertainment reporter,” Williams said. “I did one on one segments with the world’s top designers, covering New York Fashion Week’s red carpet. My background is so diverse and different. So it’s amusing when people think that I’ve just kind of created a platform and ended up here. You can’t box me in. I didn’t just end up here. I didn’t. I’m not a superfan that created a sports account, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, that’s just not me. No, but I’m a journalist, and I’m a digital journalist and a public speaker on many things.”
That background in reporting has paid dividends in her move to the sports world. She’s covered the BIG3 and served as sideline reporter for the Dyckman Basketball summer league in 2018, but most notably has become a trusted newsbreaker for WNBA stories like Converse covering Natasha Cloud’s salary for 2020 season, the WNBA trademarking WUBBLE, Chiney Ogwumike executive producing a WUBBLE documentary, and Ogwumike getting an ESPN radio show.
Williams combines her reporting chops with relationships she’s been able to build within the WNBA to become a trusted voice both for fans and those in the league.
“Khristina has a unique ability to connect with players and bring out their personalities in interviews,” a WNBA league executive told Dime. “Also, she’s been able to break the news from players and provide a new perspective to WNBA coverage. Most importantly, she’s been very consistent in her coverage of the league, and oftentimes people who cover the WNBA do not stay involved with the league for more than a couple of seasons. A lot of the most comprehensive and in-depth WNBA coverage comes from independent outlets such as Girls Talk Sports TV, Next Hoops, Winsidr, Her Hoops Stats, and many others. This both creates a pipeline of great reporters and puts pressure on mainstream media to cover the league and expand their efforts. Women’s sports deserve way more coverage, and that’s inclusive of grassroots media, traditional media, and other forms. What grassroots media does is create more consistency in the coverage, which leads to more overall coverage. Many grassroots media have either expanded their own channels or gone on to mainstream platforms which both elevate WNBA coverage.”
Part of what separates Williams in the WNBA media space is that she is a Black woman, which means she has a natural connection with those in the league who have shared experience with her, and having that perspective is so important to bring to WNBA coverage.
“The WNBA is a league made up of approximately 80 percent Black women,” the executive says. “It’s critical that Black women are well represented in all aspects of the league, from coaches to front office executives to support staff as well as in the media. The entire sports media landscape needs more women and people of color and reporters who share backgrounds with the athletes they cover.”
Williams wholeheartedly agrees, and is proud of building a platform that allows her to amplify Black women and tell stories others don’t.
“I love sports, but it’s bigger than basketball for me,” Williams says. “And so, however, I can use my voice and my platform is what really matters most. Women’s sports only received four percent of all media coverage and roughly one percent of sponsorship dollars. The league is having such a hard time with marketing these players and I feel like partially it’s because of, you know, people being afraid to tell the athletes stories. I think that that can only happen when there’s diversity in a newsroom. You have news editors that accept only certain pitches. And it’s very important for people of color to tell stories of people of color, and there needs to be diversity in the newsroom, because then we’ll see a reflection of the athletes’ stories being told, and you know, just from the media perspective inside, that was super important for me, as someone who grew up playing a game coach in the game that I saw the representation of women that looked like me.”
Growing up, Williams was a creative kid, attending LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts — the high school in which Fame is based on — to study visual arts. While in middle and high school Williams spent four weeks each summer taking rigorous art programs from theater, visual arts, film, and studying various things. She credits her parents invested in her artistic interests, which she’s now been able to combine with her passion for sports through Girls Talk Sports TV. Her connection to basketball began by watching former WNBA and Tennessee Vols player Shannon Bobbitt on the court in the projects across from where Williams lived.
“My love for the game started there too,” she says. “Just seeing Bobbitt on different basketball courts in that housing project beating guys and be recruited by the legendary Pat Summit was special. She was successful in her career, coming from the hood and then making it to the WNBA.”
While in college, she started volunteering her weekends, growing the local community game, mentoring and coaching youth girls basketball at the Greenwich House Malakoff Girls Basketball League. She still coaches whenever her schedule allows it.
Williams’ advocacy for women in sports started at a young age, thanks to her participation in the Harlem Children’s Zone, a program created by Geoffrey Canada to help underserved families. Williams said about the program, “Every summer, we would have a summer program, and then they would do the peace march. The march really helped us as kids to recognize that we have a voice and that we have the right to protest things that are not right.”
She took that message to heart and applied it from an early age to push for equality in the world of sports. During her fifth grade year, she advocated for a girls basketball team after noticing the school only had a boy’s team, and the girls were only offered cheerleading. She knew that wasn’t right, so she hounded the coach so much that the school started a girl’s team in her sixth-grade year, and of course, she joined.
In 2020, advocacy for justice and equality from figures in sports became a dominant story, and Williams was uniquely positioned to speak on that through her platform. After sports went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams launched “Kickin’ It with Khristina,” a digital interview series turned podcast that was conceptualized during quarantine and features candid conversations with top athletes about sports, justice, and life.
Past guests included Sheryl Swoopes, Natasha Cloud, Renee Montgomery, Sydney Colson, and more. All of that work paid off in a major way at the end of 2020, as she signed with CSE Talent and was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 Class of 2021 in the sports category.
“It’s such an honor to be listed on the Forbes under 30 Sports category,” Williams says. “It just confirms or validates everything that I’ve been doing up until this point, especially as someone like me, who’s a young African-American woman who’s independent, who’s created something, or works from the ground up and completely original. It means a lot to be recognized for this prestigious annual award. I feel like being listed will also inspire many people who are probably on the fence or want to take that first step in investing or betting on themselves. I can’t even believe it. I’m just still shocked I was voted on that list. Thank you so much to all the judges, Mark Cuban, Billie Jean King, Emmanuel Acho, and Lyle Ayes. I am so honored that they saw my vision amongst thousands and thousands of people who could have been chosen to be listed in honor this year. That means a lot.”
Along with Williams, Arielle Chambers of Bleacher Report and the voice of HighlightHer was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 Class of 2021 in the sports category. Chambers worked with Williams at Girls Talk Sports TV and the two have watched each other rise in the media space, supporting each other along the way.
“Khristina and I met at Whole Foods in Harlem and shared our passions,” Chambers explains. “It was dope that she envisioned starting a platform featuring women who knew sports. I felt like it was great to contribute my W(NBA) passion and knowledge, so it was great seeing how women could come together and work toward a greater good. It’s amazing to see how it’s become a leader in W coverage.”
Chambers says that Girls Talk Sports TV has consistently shone a light on the W. It has shown that the WNBA can be covered year-round and emphasizes that these players and news surrounding them matter. It’s the consistency that matters to her.
For both Williams and Chambers, representation matters. To them, it was with much pride for both to see the Forbes 30 under 30 Class of 2020 comprised of 40 percent women and 49 percent people of color. “It goes to show you that we are the culture and we won’t be silenced, so give us our flowers while we are here,” Williams said.
“We belong in these spaces! We have broken down barriers, and we belong,” Chambers says. “When one of us wins, all of us win, and I’m so proud of our tribe. We’ve completely shattered the ceiling and made our own table, and now we can all eat. Players see themselves in us. We get things out of them because we, ourselves, are Black women too. We share unique experiences with the athletes, so there’s a distinct level of trust there.”
It’s a matter of sharing those experiences, and promoting them to the best of their ability, with hopes that coverage of women’s sports will continue to grow.
“Women’s sports receives less than four percent of all sports media coverage,” the WNBA executive adds. “So if we only highlight mainstream media and traditional outlets, WNBA reporters are less likely to be acknowledged. I thought it was great that Forbes honored Khristina and Ari Chambers and put them on the same platform as reporters covering men’s sports. This shows that covering the WNBA is not a stepping stone but rather a priority for great reporters like Khristina.”
Williams created her own path to success. She hopes that little Black girls and other Black women follow in her footsteps to achieve their dreams by betting on themselves and knowing that they belong and are important in the industry.
“You don’t need a million dollars, a blue check on social media to make a difference,” Williams said. “You can make a difference where you are.”
Or, as W.E.B. Debois so eloquently put it, “There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.”