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Meet Kathy Nelson, the woman who helped bring the NFL Draft and World Cup to Kansas City

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Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation
Nelson helped bring the 2023 NFL Draft to Kansas City, which will be held at Union Station from April 27 to April 29.

If you don't know about Kathy Nelson, you should. She was born and raised right here in Kansas City, and was just named one of USA Today’s "2023 Women of the Year."

Kansas City Sports Commission president Kathy Nelson grew up one block away from the Worlds of Fun water tower, between the neighborhoods of Winnetonka and Maple Park.

“Both of my brothers worked there, and we rode our bicycles all the time up and around the tower," Nelson told KCUR's Up To Date. "We didn’t have sidewalks in our neighborhood, and I still don't think there are. I loved it."

Nelson’s Kansas City roots go deep. Her father worked for Trans World Airlines for over four decades, and her mom worked for Western Auto and Ferellgas. In several interviews, Nelson names her mother as her biggest inspiration.

Growing up, Nelson was wild about rodeo.

“I think it was just the competition and the camaraderie,” she said. “Even if you weren't the one performing or winning that night, you wanted someone that you traveled with to do well. There was always a good mix of lifting each other up.”

In March, Nelson was named one of USA Today's "Women of the Year," an honor that recognizes women who have made big impacts in their communities.

"Nelson's fervor for public service, Kansas City and the Midwest is palpable," the newspaper wrote.

A former TV journalist and inductee of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Nelson joined the Sports Commission in 2010. Last year, Kansas City was announced as one of 16 host sites in North America for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The nonprofit is also instrumental in bringing the 2023 NFL Draft to town this month.

Nelson likened her role as head of the Kansas City Sports Commission to that of a band director.

“When you have a marching band out on the football field at halftime, you make sure that everyone's ready to go, that we know what our message or our song is, and that we’ve rehearsed many, many times.”

How she pulls it all off? She’s fiercely competitive, and part of a wonderful team.

“I have so many talented people around me, there’s no way this is just me,” she said.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
Claudia Brancart is an Up To Date producer for KCUR 89.3. She graduated from Pitzer College in Los Angeles where she majored in World Literature and Studio Art. You can reach her at claudiab@kcur.org.
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