How Rachel Nichols’ Journey Led to ‘Doing the Work’

Rachel Nichols grew up outside of the Washington DC area and developed a love and admiration for two things: sports, and The Washington Post. At an early age, one of the reporters at the Post left a lasting impression of Nichols.

A woman named Christine Brennan, who now is with USA Today worked at the time for The Washington Post. She was the first female full-time beat writer of an NFL team.” said Nichols.

But a young Nichols didn’t even know what it meant that Brennan was the first person to do it full-time. Nichols only knew that when she opened her favorite newspaper and read about the team she kept up with, there was a woman who wrote about it. She assumed she could do that. And that’s what she wanted to do.

It wasn’t until much later that people started trying to steal her dreams. They kept feeding her nonsense, pushing their insecurities onto her with stuff like, “Come on, you can’t really do that.”

But it was already too late because the fire was lit. Nichols had already seen Brennan do it. That made a huge impression on Nichols once she entered the business and really learned about the dynamics at play.

“When you’re a kid, you don’t understand it. But it’s why I think now, we talk about representation, if you can’t see anybody doing what you’re doing, it is very hard to get there. And if you can see people doing it, it just changes the whole equation,” added Nichols.

The Emmy Award winning Rachel Nichols went to Northwestern University. She had journalism professors who thought they were looking out for her best interest when they tried to push her towards covering news instead of sports. They would put little seeds in her head.

“Like, ‘You’re so smart. You’re such a nice girl. You don’t want to work in sports. It’s the toy department.’ That’s what people used to call it in newspapers and TV, “toy department,” she recalled. “And I just said, “No, this is actually what I want to do.”

Northwestern led to her first job,” covering the University of Miami football team back in the ’90s when it was “The U.”

Then a job opened at The Washington Post covering a hockey beat and she landed it. She spent nearly a decade working at the Washington Post where she covered first the Washington Capitals, then football, basketball, multiple Olympics and Grand Slam tennis.

Nichols really loved both football and basketball, but she said basketball stole her heart, noting that watching players without equipment over their faces allows fans to experience the sport than in sports where there is more separation.

And the more time she covered the NBA, the further she was drawn in watching these phenomenal athletes.

As she filled in covering hoops, she started to speak up for herself, and most of all, do the work. Her advice to aspiring journalists is simple.

“You want to be the last person in the room,” she said. “And if you do that, it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to do great, but you’re probably not going to do great without it. So I was constantly willing to be like, “Oh, I’ll take that trip. I’ll stay in extra days, fine.”

Doing the work has been her driving motivation, and the hours and hours of preparation she puts in are on display every time you see her on TV.

“I drive to work, I’m listening to someone’s basketball podcast. At night, I’m watching at least two or three games and see what’s going on. I read a lot,” she said. “I had to do my homework and I feel like that’s why I get to have a seat at that table. I don’t want a championship, and I don’t play basketball. So, my value has to come from doing the work.”

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