Get to know the next generation of must-know names that are changing the game in the series Introducing, where Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are celebrating the Black women and girls who are emerging leaders and rising stars in the sports world.
Name: Nia Symone
Profession: Digital content creator and host
Hometown: Decatur, Ga.
Hobbies: Boxing, roller skating, creating R&B and hip-hop playlists
A former Division I hooper at Alabama State University turned digital content creator and host of Nike’s online series, “Come Thru,” Nia Symone is not just coming through for women in sports, but all athletes by giving them a safe space to be heard and find their purpose.
Empower Onyx: You are a former athlete, but what’s your new role in sports?
Nia Symone: I am a digital creator and host a show for Nike called, “Come Thru,” where I sit down with game-changing Black women and talk about pretty much any and everything under the sun.
EO: Why is this type of show necessary?
NS: When you think of Nike, you think about their shoes, about their outfits, things of that sort. You don't think of Nike having a digital platform for Black women to talk about Black women things. The purpose behind this is to show that it is possible for Black women to be in these spaces and to have these conversations. Little Nia couldn't turn on the TV and see someone that looks like her or see a round table of powerful women that are talking about important things in our communities and in our world. We have a long way to go, but we are special and we deserve to have our voices heard, too.
EO: You are passionate about helping people find their purpose, especially athletes. When did you find your purpose in life?
NS: I worked full-time at CNN Sports as an associate producer. I'm going to be honest with you: I hated it. I hated every bit of it. [There were] 65 people on my team, only three of us were Black. I was unhappy. I got benefits, a salary and a stable job, but it wasn’t fulfilling me. I thought to myself: Why am I forcing myself to be in a space for money? I took a leap of faith and I quit my full-time job. I went from making $1,000 dollars a week, to $300 a week. I was doing some digital content for smaller women's basketball platforms, breaking down film, doing highlights, all different types of things. I was happy because I was able to create.
EO: How did you go from being barely employed to hosting your own show for a major player like Nike?
NS: I remember in January 2021, the creator and the director of the show made a tweet looking to cast former hoopers around the Atlanta area, preferably Black, for a film. I'm thinking, oh, maybe she needs an extra or something—sign me up. Well, a friend of mine mentioned me in the tweet. She's like, Oh, Nia would be great for this opportunity. I didn't think anything of it. There was no way she was going to see my little tweet. I mean, this woman was verified, she had over 44,000 followers. Well, from January to March, they had been watching me, I had no clue.
Months went by, and I totally forgot about it. March 1, 2021—I'll never forget this date. I got a message from the woman who made the tweet. I didn't realize that she followed me on Instagram. (Again, you just never know who's watching.) She said, Hey Nia, I have this opportunity with Nike and I want you to host the show. I'm like, there's no way. For a week, it didn't process that I now have a life-changing opportunity with Nike and from there on, the rest is history.
EO: What inspired you to create Purpose To Be Heard, your start-up digital storytelling platform?
NS: I created Purpose To Be Heard to help athletes understand that you are so much more and just finding your purpose in life. There are not enough people working for athletes to be successful outside of sports. It is rough. Fewer than 2% of us make it professionally. When I say us, I mean athletes as a whole that played on a collegiate level, no matter what sport, what level. Our whole life somebody has told us: ball is life. Ball is not life.
Imagine, from 6 to age 21, somebody telling you what to do, when to do it, how to do it, where to do it. And then one day, all that stops. You're sitting there like, Well, what am I supposed to do now? We're not prepared for the real world. I have a lot of friends, a lot of old teammates and it's either sink or swim for us. Unfortunately, it's just a tough situation because a lot of us aren't mentally able to understand that we are so much more than the sport we played.
EO: What do you think the public’s biggest misconception is when it comes to athletes?
NS: I think society views athletes as human machines, that we have it all together. They don't see us as human, that's the problem. I want to provide resources by partnering with different sports psychologists, therapists and mental health professionals. Therapy is the best thing that ever happened to me. If I had that throughout my time of being an athlete and a student, I mean, it would have probably been a different story for real.
EO: What do you see for the future—for Purpose To Be Heard and for yourself?
NS: Aside from being a storytelling platform, the long-term goal is to help as many athletes as possible by creating a safe space for all athletes, whether you're retired or playing currently. As far as Nia herself, I would say, continue to walk into my purpose. I feel like God put this vision in my heart for a reason. I love to just be me and to give back.