Three women leading the way in KC sports journalism
According to the journalism institute Poynter, about 90 percent of sports journalists in the country are male. Kansas City media is something of an outlier in that three of the biggest names in local sports media are women. With the Chiefs season about to ramp up as the Royals wind down, we decided to profile these barrier-breaking women.
In 2018, Dani Welniak, 30, became the sports director at KCTV5 Sports. She’s also the sideline reporter for the Chiefs Radio Network and hosts The Locker Room Show on KCTV5’s sister station, KSMO.
It’s exactly what you’d expect from a former Super Bowl champ — which she is.
Welniak has been around sports her entire life. Her father was a linebacker at the University of Nebraska, and her mother bought her first football jersey: former Cowboys QB Tony Romo, when he was still the backup.
Dani Welniak played volleyball, basketball and softball but also had an interest in performing arts and sang in the choir in high school. In 2007, she got an opportunity to play football herself as part of the Dallas Diamonds women’s professional team.
“In Texas, football is a religion,” Welniak says. “Other than being a cheerleader or a kicker, women just didn’t get to play, so I seized the opportunity.”
Welniak spent five seasons with the Diamonds, playing receiver and running back. She was team captain, a three-time Pro Bowler and part of the first Women’s World Championship team in 2008. Today, she proudly wears her gemstone-encrusted Super Bowl ring.
Welniak earned a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State and got her first reporting job at a Wichita TV station’s Dodge City bureau before making her way to KCTV.
As a former pro footballer herself, Welniak has a different connection to the players than most sideline reporters of either sex.
“The first time I ever met [Chiefs defensive tackle] Chris Jones, I shook his hand and he grabbed mine and flipped it over and said, ‘What is this?’ referring to my Super Bowl ring,” she says. “I told him the background and he laughed, saying, ‘I have respect for you doing that.’”
Karen Kornacki has been covering sports in Kansas City since 1983 — an impressive run at a job she never expected to have. She currently reports for KMBC.
Kornacki’s father played baseball and was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, but was unable to pursue a pro career. He went on to work a factory job in her hometown of Buffalo and coached football at a local Catholic school.
Kornacki’s introduction to sports came from the players her father coached coming over to the house — and she didn’t like it.
“They would take over the TV, eat all over and make a mess, and I would have to clean up after them,” she says. “I was annoyed, and I hated it.”
Kornacki was a cheerleader but never a serious athlete. She got a degree in public speaking from the University of Denver and then went to Columbus, Ohio, to work as a sportscaster.
“To get my first job in sports was a shock to my family,” Kornacki says with a laugh. “They thought it would be the shortest career ever.”
At the time, there were almost no women covering sports.
“My first job was 1979, and there was no rule book, no etiquette or anything,” she says. “Back then it was so different. Everywhere I walked was a first step.”
Kornacki covered Ohio State, plus the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals.
“Men did not know what to think of us,” she says. “The man I worked with in Columbus was walking ahead of me and didn’t know whether to open the door for me or not. Men had to change the way they thought and acted because they were now side-by-side with women.”
Kornacki was taught to score baseball games by fellow Dispatch reporter Jack Torre with an assist from legend Billy Martin — the five-time world champ whose number was retired by the Yankees — and fell in love with it.
She became the first female reporter in the locker rooms of the Reds, Bengals, Chiefs and Royals.
“The Chiefs first got those wrap-around towels so I could be in the locker room,” she says. “When I opened my mouth, I had about six seconds to earn the players’ and coaches’ respect or become the joke.”
In her early years in the locker room, Kornacki says other women complained about lewd comments made from time to time but she never experienced that. Today, the atmosphere has changed.
“I remember asking George Brett about having women reporters in the locker room and he said, ‘What I like about you is I can trust you because you don’t peek — you are doing your job for the right reason,’” she says.
It’s a rare day that Brooke Pryor’s byline isn’t in The Kansas City Star. Since July 2018, Pryor has been the beat reporter covering the Kansas City Chiefs, and it’s been a very busy year with the emergence of Patrick Mahomes and a deep playoff run.
In fact, Mahomes is how she came to The Star. Pryor was happy at her previous job at the daily newspaper in Oklahoma City. When The Star came calling, the chance to cover the career of a superstar quarterback was “too good to pass up.”
Pryor, 27, was deeply involved in athletics in her hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“I played sports growing up nonstop — basketball, volleyball, field hockey, you name it,” Pryor says. “I told my AAU basketball coach that I was going to be on ESPN one day.”
Pryor attended an all-girls high school, but “football has always been part of my life,” she says. In high school, she was the editor of her school’s yearbook. When she attended UNC, she learned that the yearbook had been discontinued, so she applied to work for the Daily Tar Heel student newspaper.
“I had two clips to share, including a feature I had written for the yearbook on our assistant basketball coach,” she says.
Pryor made the staff — the only woman hired that semester. “It was the most competitive desk, but I had no idea,” Pryor says.
Pryor’s first assignments were covering cross country meets. She would watch streaming coverage of remote races and do telephone interviews to prepare stories.
“I was really serious about it,” she says. “I didn’t get my first football game until my junior year. My senior year I did exclusively football and basketball.”
Pryor graduated from UNC in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication.
“I wanted to cover the things that had people talking the most — elite college football or blueblood basketball,” she says.
Of course, when you are covering a high profile beat for one of the region’s largest media outlets, some online harassment from football-obsessed trolls is inevitable.
“I have had to grow thick skin and use filters,” she says. “When they attack my work, that hurts the most — I try not to put too much stock in social media.”