A Sexual Assault Survivor Relaunches Herself as a Podcast Superstar
Kelli Moore had the dream job in sports TV until a transgression stole her innocence. Then she stood back up.
“I see the way sports were covered, and it’s a lot of BS, and it’s just not genuine or authentic,” says Emmy-winning TV host Kelli Moore. “I also saw how toxic it was. I was a young woman in my twenties in a male dominated culture, and I dealt with sexual assault, and I didn’t feel good about myself. …So I left that career because of the sexual assault, because of the lack of value and worth I felt within myself.” After a 15-year career in television, Moore watched the #MeToo movement erupt into the mainstream and signal that it was her time to speak up. Giving voice to her experience made her a pariah in her industry but catapulted her into a reinvention with a mission to help other women. Now the host of two wildly successful podcasts, Moore continues to embrace the difficult conversations. She shares how journaling, podcasts, and self-empowerment helped her overcome fear, ditch the mean girls, and create her best life yet.
Kelli Moore is a master of helping women reinvent themselves. After leaving her 15-year award-winning sports television career while simultaneously healing her chronic illness, she devoted her career to supporting women in their own self-discovery process. Through potent conversations on her top-ranked shows, The Naked Mama and OK, Babe., she leads women on their journeys through intimacy and motherhood, helping to clear old stories and beliefs so that they can step into who they are becoming. She is a mom, a wife, and co-founder and CEO of the premiere podcast network, Soulfire Productions.
LJS: Hi, Kelli. So fabulous to have you on the podcast today.
KM: Thank you, Lesley. Thanks for having me.
LJS: So let’s talk a little bit about you. I always love to start with, “Where did you grow up and what did you think you would be doing? What did you set out to do?”
KM: Yeah, so I grew up in Temecula, California. It’s between LA and San Diego. And I was a volleyball player my entire life, so that’s really where I spent most of my time. I ended up at USC, co-captaining the volleyball team. Also, I knew that I wanted to be at USC in Los Angeles to give me access to be on TV. I had wanted to be a TV host since I was 10 years old. And so I spent all this time really getting good within my internships and gaining access within the industry, and ended up being hired by ESPN and Fox Sports right after I graduated from college. And I worked in that industry for about 15 years, and that was it for me. I was like, “I have made it.” If I could be on Sports Center, Good Morning America, and make my way into entertainment, that would be the absolute dream life, dream job. And I ended up leaving that career after 14 or 15 years, my last job being with the Lakers and the Dodgers, and my life looks very different now.
LJS: Wow, that’s incredible. What an incredible start. And that you actually were able to move on the thing that you dreamed of doing, and got there. That’s incredible. So what made you?
KM: You know, it was a lot of things. I don’t like sports, so that’s –
LJS: What?! I’m sitting here talking – and I am not a sports person, I am, like, the person…I went to Duke, and people come to me and they go, “So, hey, how about the Devils?” And I’m like, “The what?”
KM: Yeah, “The who?”
LJS: They can’t believe that I’m not interested! So you can’t be and have had that career. What?!
KM: I know, it’s crazy, right? I mean, I think a part of it is that I was an athlete, and so I just see it from an athlete’s perspective, and I see the way sports were covered, and it’s a lot of BS, and it’s just not genuine or authentic. I also saw it from being the reporter inside the locker room or the clubhouse and how annoying we had to be with all of the players and just how kind of surface-level the conversations were. I don’t know, I think that I viewed it from a different perspective, especially after “meeting your heroes.” I got to learn about who these people actually were and the pedestals that we put them on.
I started to see the reality of this world, and was a part of it in a much different way. I also saw how toxic it was. I was a young woman in my twenties in a male dominated culture, and I dealt with sexual assault, and I didn’t feel good about myself. I was very much the young, hot girl and received a lot of validation and attention for that. And so it really skewed the idea and perception within myself of my own value and my own worth in the world. And I really didn’t think highly of myself. So I left that career because of the sexual assault, because of the lack of value and worth I felt within myself.
And also, I had chronic illness this entire time. Over those 14-15 years, I was very, very ill. And I think that was my body trying to talk to me saying, “This is toxic. You hate this life. You’re people pleasing. You’re living a life for other people. You’re not aligned with who you actually want to be and where you want to go.” I think I finally was able to listen to my body and realize that there were a lot of different factors and variables going on telling me you have to pivot, otherwise you just will not survive this.
LJS: Jeez Louise. Oh, my goodness. I’m so glad you’re honest about how these things look from the outside and how they really are from the inside, because I’m sure that’s a shock to a lot of people. I understand what you’re talking about, because I ran women’s magazines for 40 years, and it ain’t what it looks like. The celebrities are not what they look like. Nothing is what it looks like. And I don’t know anything about the world of sports, but I’m not surprised to hear you say that. I am, because I thought maybe it’s different, but it’s not.
Kelli stayed quiet as a sexual assault survivor until #MeToo
LJS: Wow. And so you really had that thing going where everybody thought you had it made. Do you want to talk a little bit about it? Was that a business thing that happened? Do you talk about the sexual assault at all? Was it through business or a personal thing?
KM: Yeah. So, it was with a colleague and a really good friend of mine and it was really difficult. Obviously, I was very taken aback and in shock. And I stayed quiet about it for quite a long time because you know that in this industry, if you come forward, oh, my goodness, get your ass kicked.
LJS: Right? Of course. What made you finally talk about it?
KM: When the Harvey Weinstein stuff actually came out, that’s when I realized that I had to speak. I was watching TV the day everything broke on the news, and I saw these really powerful, famous women come forward and [say] how they had been treated and how horrible it was. And I started to think about… I think I was 27 at the time. I started to think about myself and my situation, and I thought, oh, my God, I didn’t know I could say something. Oh, my God. I didn’t know that this was not okay in that way, and that other people were dealing with it. I think as young women, we are always in that position of, oh, it must just be me. It’s just…
LJS: That’s right. It’s my fault.
KM: Yeah. And I didn’t realize that there were all these women in many industries across the world dealing with this kind of experience. And behavior. And I called my mom that day. She had known what had happened. I had called her the morning after, but I called her and I said I didn’t know I could say anything. And she’s like, yeah, of course you can. And I started to think about it, and that’s when I started to take steps to come forward. I ended up coming forward, and I was on every news station. It was this whole thing.
We had a press conference, and everyone stopped talking to me. I had to leave the industry, which was fine for me. I knew I didn’t want to be in it anyway. But that’s why I stayed quiet, and that’s why so many of my friends and colleagues continue to stay quiet to this day. The day after I came forward – and it was everywhere, and everyone found out – I received hundreds and hundreds of messages from women in the industry saying, I’ve been raped, I’ve been assaulted. I’ve had these experiences. I don’t feel like I could come forward because I’m going to lose my job. And thank you for speaking up, but also, I’m going to stay quiet. And it was really sad to me because I realized that it was rare for someone to come forward, obviously, and speak up. But I saw the way my whole world collapsed and crumbled in that industry. No one talked to me. I think I have a producer and a host that still talked to me. Everyone else just completely, ignored me and moved on from me. And I would never be able to get a job in television, especially in sports, after that. But I was okay with that because for me, standing up for myself and asking for life and taking care of myself for the very first time was way more important than any paycheck or any attention or career that I could have had, because it’s just not worth it.
LJS: Oh, Kelli, I’m giving you, through zoom, I’m giving you a big hug. And I’m so glad you did come out and talk, because unless we do, it will not… I mean, I can’t tell you how many people in my business had the same issues, and people who I had no idea had those issues. And it was over me, too, that they started to talk about them. Things that had happened in college, even, and no one wants to talk. That’s the big problem.
LJS: So let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing now and why you’re doing it.
KM: When I left television, I had about six months that I didn’t work. And I was on the couch every day, and I was contemplating life, as we all do, as we make big transitions. Okay, I burnt this to the ground. Now what? And I knew that so much of me had to die, and I had to let go of all of these old patterns and ways of being that had kept me operating in very much fight or flight and survival. he people pleasing, the need for attention and validation, the need to live a life based on what other people’s expectations were, the need to constantly climb that mountain and get the gold star and the pat on the back. All those parts of me really needed to die. And I don’t know that I knew every aspect of that, but I just knew something’s got to change, and it has to be drastic.
And so during that time, I really sat with myself, and I asked myself hard questions. And that’s really when I started to get into personal development and spirituality and really getting connected with my own voice, rather than just all of the noise and chaos and opinions of everyone around me. And I started to ask myself, what really makes me happy? What am I good at? What do I enjoy doing? What lights me up? And what I realized is that after living and working in a space with almost all men for most of my life, I really wanted sisterhood. I really wanted community. I was craving it so deeply. And after being bullied and having poor relationships with girls my entire life – and I was the best volleyball player, and so everyone hated me. And then I resented everyone, and it was just like a whole thing.
I realized, okay, I’m an adult now, and I get to rewrite this story. And it doesn’t need to be competitive. It doesn’t need to be this cutthroat experience, the way I lived it in sports and television with other women. So what does that look like? And so I started to cultivate real deep sisterhood and community, and I started to put myself out there, and I started to reach out to women and say, hey, can we get coffee? I feel like we have a lot in common. And I just started to make real friends in that space.
In that time, I also realized, okay, I’m really great at interviewing people. This is the thing I’ve done for so long, and I really enjoy it. I’m a very curious person. I love going in depth with people, so what can I do? And at the time, I was also healing from that chronic illnes…. So I started my podcast. It was called The Platform back then. It was five years ago. And the whole premise of the show was community, sisterhood, and healing from chronic illness and all of these different, mysterious things that happen, with alternative medicine, and having conversations, and creating resources for women so that they know that there are other options. They know there’s more out there for them than what they have seen and had access to.
As soon as I started doing that, as soon as I started having these conversations and sharing my process, my soul just lit up, and I knew this is the path for me. And ever since then, I’ve basically been building upon that. And so my show has gone through many iterations. It’s called The Naked Mama now.
I’m a mom now. And so it’s very much the similar kind of concept. It’s sisterhood, it’s community, it’s asking better questions. It’s seeing what else is possible for us outside the box. It’s creating resources for growth and self awareness, and really taking radical responsibility for our lives so that when we do go after that reinvention, when we do go after everything that we deeply desire and want, we have the support system that so many of us really need and are craving. And alongside the podcast, I also created our production company. It’s called Soulfire Productions, and we produce about 30 podcasts,and work with content creators in every aspect of their business and content creation and strategy and all of that. Most of our clients and team are women, which is really exciting for me. So I’ve really created a culture and a life that is super supportive of my own growth, but also to give women platforms and spaces to work together and to grow and really to shift the narrative and paradigm around what it means to be a woman and be in community.
LJS: Oh, my God, I’m so happy to hear you say that. And I’m so sorry you had such a bad start with women. That breaks my heart, really, because I know that side of women, but I grew up only with women, practically. I went to all-girls schools. I ended up working in a woman’s industry. So there were very few men. There were men at the top, but all at the bottom were mostly women. So I know both sides, but you can find good people; they do exist. There are a lot of mean girls. You have to weed those out and get to the people that really matter. But I love this. I mean, you sound like you’re kind of like CoveyClub in a way, maybe for a crowd that’s a little bit, not as advanced in their career, maybe sort of mid-career kind of people, which is fantastic. I love it because I wish more people would come together earlier. And what I find is a lot of my people, the members who come to CoveyClub, are in their 40s or 50s and they’ve spent a lot of time doing stuff they may not have loved. And they’re waiting and waiting and waiting for it to get better. And they don’t really have it getting better. So I like the idea that it can get better earlier. I think that’s very smart.
KM: Yeah, I think it is really interesting. I look at my parents and they kind of just did things because you needed to have a steady paycheck and a job and life insurance and a house with the picket fence. And it was a lot of box checking. And I think that at least what I’m seeing within my clients and my listeners is that this generation has the ability to say, I don’t actually just want to check boxes. There’s something else out there for me.
I feel like there’s a pendulum swing happening, where we get to ask those better questions. We get to actually focus on, “What do I want to do?” Not “What do I think I’m supposed to do?” I think that a lot of us have seen the way generations ahead of us, our parents, our grandparents, on and on, have lived and haven’t been fulfilled and have ended up dying and just not happy, or saying, I wish I had done this, or if I could go back in time. And I think that we’re all realizing we don’t want to get to that point in our lives and say, damn, I wish I had. And so I think we’re sort of taking drastic measures to look at our lives and say, this ain’t it. Something else has to be available to me. And I’m willing to sort of burn it down.
I’m willing to give up a lot of these false narratives [about] security and having a nine to five that my parents approve of, because what do I have to lose? And I think that it’s really important to have those conversations like you’re saying, so that people know that it’s okay to do this, it’s okay to push yourself outside the box. Outside the box, push boundaries and open yourself up to other possibilities and not just keep checking boxes within your life, because what does that actually do for you?
LJS: Right? Well, yes. And a lot of us had to check the boxes. And I think that was all that was available. Right. We came in right after sort of the groundbreakers who opened up the territory to even get into the men’s clubs of any sort or the men’s businesses. And we followed, and a lot of those women were not helpful. They had [to] groundbreak, and they looked behind them and said, well, you have to groundbreak, too. I’m not going to help you. It was not a very collegial group, and I think my group were just so happy to get a job.
It was like, oh, wow, we’ll take anything. We’ll let you do anything to us, because we’re just so ecstatic. And then I think that the generation below us said, wait a minute, there’s got to be more than that. And I think that’s really smart. And I think everybody who’s in senior management complains about the younger generation not having an idea of hanging with the businesses for very long and moving on when they don’t get what they want. And I actually think that’s much more healthy. I think my generation, we hung in there. We kept hanging in there, waiting. We had no chill. Where were we going to go, right? You had a bad boss. You had a sexually abusing boss. You didn’t say anything. You just stuck it out. This is what we did. We didn’t feel like there was any other solution. And I love the fact that you’re out there and that you’re helping people say, no, there’s something else better. And what do you find that women are looking for? What do you see? Especially after Covid. I would think that after Covid, with the way that careers are going now, where you can have much more flexibility. There was no flexibility when I had babies. You had to be back in the office. I had one boss who called me when I was on the table, and these were before cell phones, at my OBGYN. Can you believe it?
LJS: Yeah. So what are the challenges with the flexibility? What do you guys find? What are you looking for?
KM: Yeah, I think that women are just really in a place – and I think this is men, too – but I think we’re in a place where we’re reevaluating what really makes us happy and what drives us. And I don’t think paychecks are doing the job that they used to. I don’t think it’s enough anymore. I think especially our generation is really focused on, “How can I do something that not only fulfills me, but brings me pleasure and allows me to have more of a balance?” I don’t know that I necessarily believe in the work-life balance, but I think more balance in life… this idea of grinding and hustle culture, where we drive ourselves into the ground. How many people are just sick and feel terrible and are overweight and don’t have time to work out and don’t have time to eat healthy, and they’re literally just surviving every day. And I think we’re looking at that and saying, this is not okay. This is not sustainable. And you can tell because look at how many people are really ill in many, many ways. And a lot of that being chronic illness. We have this systemic inflammation from the bad food that we’re eating, from the lack of movement, from being stuck in offices. And I think Covid brought forward this idea of, there is a different way we can work from home. We can work less hours and actually be more productive and have these really fulfilling, beautiful lives where we’re out in nature, or we’re spending more time with friends, or we’re connecting in deeper ways because we’re not stuck in an office, really on Facebook most of the day, but pretending we’re working so that we can clock in and clock out. I think this whole robotic nature of life has really taken a toll. And people are calling BS on it and saying, no, this is not it. This is not sustainable, and this is not actually filling us and making the world a better place. Everyone’s just miserable. nd so my audience is constantly coming forward and talking about this idea of, I desire so much. I just don’t know how to get there. I don’t know what the first step is within their relationships or with themselves or their careers. How do I get the confidence? How do I gain that fierceness that I once had to choose myself, to stand up for myself and to ask for more? To know that I deserve it and that I am worthy and that I don’t just have to fall under someone’s rule and follow their rules and be the good girl anymore. I talk about this all the time because I was the perpetual good girl. I got straight As. I was the best athlete. I sat in front of the class, teacher’s pet, followed every rule there was in television, and I got my ass handed to me, and it just was never worth it. And so I think so many women are saying, I don’t want to be a good girl. I don’t want to follow the rules. I want to actually make my own rules. I want to curate a life that feels good to me and not do what everyone else tells me to do.
LJS: I was such a good girl. Then I finally had a mentor who ran a magazine, a bigger magazine than me. But she finally said to me, you need to reach down inside and find your inner bad girl.
LJS: I was such a doobie. I’m like one of those, you throw the ball, and I go get it. t’s not healthy, and it’s not good. I’m shocked that it’s still going on at all. It sounds like you’re helping people recognize when they’re doing that and that that may not be healthy for them.
KM: Yeah. Well, I mean, I’m sure you agree with this. You had a mentor. I had some really amazing mentors, men and women who took good care of me and opened my eyes and were really a huge reason why I left the industry to begin with. If we don’t have mentors or people who are a little further along on the path to bring this forward and to actually speak truth to what’s going on, we never know that it’s even possible to not be the good girl. I had [no] clue until people started asking me questions and showing me the way, and I started actually listening to podcasts, and I found resources and women who were in my industry who were saying, you can think outside the box. You can be different. You can go after what you want. You can say no. Like, you can say no. I had no idea you could say no to anything. I was such a yes girl.
LJS: Oh, yeah.
KM: And I think that it’s really our responsibility, and I take that very seriously, to pave the way and to have those conversations and to say, hey, that’s not okay. And you can say no, and you can go after this thing, and no one else can tell you how to live your life because it’s yours. And you get to take ownership of your entire experience and change paths and reinvent and become whoever the hell you want to be. And no one can tell you that that’s not okay, but we don’t know that’s even possible unless people like us speak up and give that option to the younger generation.
LJS: Right? Exactly. No, I hear you. I hear that. And, I was the yes girl as I can’t believe. It makes me mad that we still have to fight this same battle. But I guess it probably goes on for a while, though.
I feel like the 20s. Do you think that the girls in their early 20s are different? Do you feel like they’ve gotten the message that they don’t have to be people pleasers as much, or do you not see a difference?
KM: No, I really do. I think that I’m 35 and so, my audience is really early 20s into mid 40s. And it’s funny, I see these younger women come in and gosh, they are so bold and so brave and they are willing to go after what they want. And I’m over here with us girls in our mid 30s, like trying to repattern all of this and say, right, hey, I want to be more like the 22 year old over there who’s come in and [is] just brave and doesn’t care. She just doesn’t care about, yeah, they don’t care about other people’s opinions or beliefs. They don’t care about fitting in. It’s really how much can you stand out? How different can you be? And I think that there’s something so cool about that, that being different is actually really something to strive for and to stand out. And it allows you to lead in such a different way and to be a big voice in a lot of noise, rather than, oh, let me just stay small and be like everyone else and just make sure I fit in. I think that’s where a lot of us have been, unlearning these patterns over the last five to ten years. And I see these young people coming in, I’m like, wow, you guys really have it figured out.
LJS: “Can I learn from you?” Yeah, that’s the same thing. I learn a lot from my daughter. She’s in her 20s. I learn a lot. And the girls around her, they’re very tough and they’re taking no crap from anybody. I love it. It’s fantastic.
Kelli says radical honesty and journaling helped her through transition
So let’s talk about, if somebody is listening and they’ve gone through a major transition like you, where they’ve decided that this thing that they wanted, that they achieved career-wise their whole life, they’ve got it all, but it’s not what it’s cracked up to be or there’s some crisis looming there. What sort of tips and tricks can you offer? I mean, what did you have to do? Did you have to get coaching? Did you go into therapy? What did you do to get through that transition and find the other side? Because that’s always the hard part.
KM: Yeah, absolutely. I think anytime you can get support from people that are not emotionally invested necessarily in you, I think that’s the absolute best. So therapy, working with coaches, doing group programs anywhere where you can be really supported, but also called up and called forward in your life and held responsible, who can help you point out maybe the holes or where things are missing for you so that you can really take time for self reflection and focus on yourself. I think that’s really important. It’s something I’ve done a ton over the last 5 to10 years, getting support and learning how to ask for help and knowing that I don’t have to do it on my own. So I think that’s really the first part. I think the second part, and the thing that has helped me the most, and I will continue to shout this from the rooftops, is radical honesty and utilizing journaling to do so. For me, just writing things down and getting them out of my body was such a huge part of my transition, and it continues to be every time I reinvent myself, because what it allows for me to do is we create a lot of stories in our head about the what ifs, and, oh, they won’t like this, or they’re not going to like me if I say this thing or if I admit I’m this way, or if I’m too big or I’m too bright, so and so is not going to want to be my friend. Whatever our stories are, those just get stuck inside of us, and we let that sort of control us. That becomes our operating system. And what I have found within myself and my clients is that the more we can journal, the more we can get this stuff, these old beliefs, out of our bodies and onto paper, the more [we] can release ourselves from them. We are freeing ourselves from these old patterns and beliefs that oftentimes are not ours. They’re given to us by our parents or our teachers or just society in general, things that we take on and start to make our own. And so I love this idea of journaling and getting it out, and then from there, starting to have really radically honest conversations with yourself. So what that looks like is when you notice yourself reacting a certain way or choosing something, pausing and asking yourself, why? Why am I making this choice? Why is this my operating system? Why do I believe that? And what I found is that so much of what I was doing was based on things that I had been told, not things that I actually really believed in. And so I started to let go of everyone else’s voice, and I started to learn how to hear myself. And that pause is really crucial because it allows you to just take a beat and ask yourself, where is this coming from? Why am I doing this? And when you start to notice either, I have no idea, I didn’t come up with this, or, oh, my mom used to do this thing, and I’m just doing it, because she did. Then you start, where are you? And where are your parents? And what is that line? And how can you start to write your own story? How can you start to make decisions for yourself? And that really allows you to create a life based on your own terms, based on your own beliefs. And it takes time. And this is not an overnight thing, but I think practicing in that way, that is what allows us to truly reinvent ourselves in a way that is so on purpose and so aligned with who we actually are and who we want to become, rather than what we think we’re supposed to be.
LJS: Right? And I hate to tell you this, but even after 25 years of doing all the therapy and everything myself, I still hear my parents’ voices in my head. But the good thing is, now I can identify them. But it’s a lifetime of work. It doesn’t go away. It’s not like they go away and stop talking to you. But when it happens, you can say, that doesn’t sound like [me]; you know, that’s what’s good, is you can identify and then let go of that. Say “That’s not for me.” That’s wonderful.
Wonderful, Kelly. Thank you so much. And again, I just want to know, as a woman in business, I’m so sorry that you went through what you went through, and I’m hoping that we’re going to get to the point where these things don’t happen to women in business anymore. It’s a disgrace, and we need to get past this, and I hope we will. And thank you for speaking up, because it’s really important that people know this happens so they can protect themselves and also hold other people accountable. So thank you very much.
KM: Amazing. Thank you. I appreciate you.