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With Court to Corporate, Kirby Porter ’18 Aims to Reshape the Narrative Around Athletes in Business

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Kirby Porter ’18 hopes to change the narrative around student-athletes through Court to Corporate
In the summer before her junior year of high school, Kirby Porter ’18 came to a stark realization: There is more to life than basketball.

Sidelined by a torn ACL, Porter, then a standout player at the Bullis School in Potomac, Md., found herself having to think beyond the game for the first time in her life.

“Each athlete comes to that moment at a different time,” Porter says. “For me, it was a torn ACL heading into what was the biggest season. That moment enabled me to think a little bit differently about my career.”

That summer, Porter interned at the NFL Players Association, which “provided the grounding” for her current passions beyond the game. But her playing days were far from over: The six-foot-one-inch guard went on to play four years of varsity basketball at Harvard before graduating with a degree in sociology last spring. During her time at Harvard, Porter interned with the New England Patriots, Under Armor and PepsiCo, where she works today.

Throughout her time at those companies, Porter says she developed a passion “for fan-building, for storytelling [and] for impacting people and athletes through the outfit of my work.”

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“That was the foundation that I first found way back when I was in high school, when I had the game taken away for a second,” Porter said. “And I think that was reconfirmed each step of the way throughout my four years at Harvard — on the court, off the court and through the work experiences that I had.”

Those passions inspired Porter to create Court to Corporate — a digital platform that aims to “amplify the journey of athletes in corporate America to provide the mentorship, tools, and connectivity for the next generation to succeed,” according to the organization’s website.

Porter says she was frustrated by the “negative portrayal” of what athletes do outside of their playing career. She says that watching “Broke,” an episode of the ESPN documentary series “30 for 30” that explores how and why many athletes go bankrupt after retirement, was an eye-opening example to her of how athletes’ post-playing career endeavors are portrayed in a negative light. (The trailer for “Broke” opens with a jarring 2009 estimate by Sports Illustrated: After two years of retirement, 78 percent of ex-NFL players “have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.”)

But according to Porter, that narrative is changing today, thanks in large part to Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who created the platform Uninterrupted, which aims to empower athletes through storytelling. Last fall, James traveled the globe as part of the “More than an Athlete World Tour.”

“I think a lot of the narratives that you saw with athletes beyond the game were previously in a negative light, and [Uninterrupted is] shifting that,” Porter said.

But James’ work revolves mostly around professional athletes. Enter: Court to Corporate.

“As I was looking at these narratives evolving, I thought, ‘why is there not a space to go to where this narrative is applied to the 98 percent of athletes who don’t go on to play professionally?’” Porter said. “With that, Court to Corporate was really about amplifying this journey of athletes who go through the same exact process: leveraging their skillsets, their intangibles, their personal brand, their power and their identity to excel beyond the game, but just through a different lense — through their careers. And when they leverage it the right way, it empowers them and can accelerate their journey beyond the game. There hadn’t really been visibility to that.”

Porter launched Court to Corporate as an Instagram page on January 6. In March, she put out the first episode of her Podcast, “Court to Corporate: The Athlete’s Playbook in the Business World,” which is now available on most major podcasting platforms. The show features discussions with current and former college athletes, many of whom are now businesspeople, as well as inspirational speakers, coaches and entrepreneurs.

For some student athletes, who dedicate much of their time in college to a sport, the transition to life beyond athletics can be turbulent. Court to Corporate exists to provide those athletes a blueprint for success.

“What’s really hard as varsity athletes is we dedicate so much time to our sport in the summers, in the offseasons and we’re not able necessarily to take advantage of work opportunities,” said former Harvard women’s ice hockey player Chelsea Ziadie ’18. “Once we graduate, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, I dedicated all of these hours and all of my time — 18 years of life — to this sport, but now how do I transfer those skills? Or am I too late? Did everyone already get that job that I wanted because I was at practice?’

“I think hearing about how other people become successful in that is really important and that’s what [Porter is] allowing people to do.”

Ziadie, who was interviewed on Porter’s podcast in April, now plays in the Professional Women’s Ice Hockey Association, in addition to working full-time at Morgan Stanley. Ziadie says she wakes up at 4:40 a.m. every morning in order to make it to the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., for practice. She then commutes to New York City to start work at 9 a.m.

Ziadie, who was named the women’s ice hockey team’s Most Valuable Player in 2018, is full of praise for Porter’s initiative.

“We prioritize the things that are important to us, and she’s making this the priority in her life, and I think that speaks to how passionate she is about it,” Ziadie said. “She doesn’t have to do this — she has a job. She’s already on her path and her career. The whole goal of this is to give back to others and help others understand what maybe we didn’t understand when we were younger, or what we wish we knew.

“She’s very charismatic, she’s very intelligent and I think that what she’s doing is wonderful. When someone doesn’t have to do something but they’re going out of their way and making time to prioritize that in their life, I think that speaks volumes as to who they are as a person.”

For Harvard sophomore Sofie Fella, who plays varsity rugby, the Court to Corporate podcast has been “super helpful” in discovering non-athletic passions.

“I know that when I’m done with college, if I’m not able to play rugby anymore, that’s not the end of the world,” said Fella, who interns with the Harvard Athletics Marketing team. “I have something else that I can wake up and be excited for every day. That’s a message that’s really important to educate a lot of athletes on that could prevent people investing their entire lives into a sport and then not knowing what to do after college.”

Porter has plans to expand Court to Corporate. She says that “a big priority No. 1 of Court” is to “meet the athletes where they are right now and bring this conversation offline.”

“Ultimately, we want to bring this to people in-person,” Porter said. “I think building that connection on the ground is so important and is the natural evolution for Court to Corporate.”

Regardless of what’s next, Porter’s message remains the same.

“I think athletes are sometimes left out of the conversation, and I think there needs to be a space for athletes to be able to learn from those who come before them in the corporate world,” she said. “That’s really been the inspiration behind Court to Corporate — to amplify this journey of athletes in corporate America, provide the platform for current and former athletes to share how they’re leveraging their playbook beyond the game. It’s to reinstill that sense of community.”

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