34 - The Sports Journalism Career of Christine Brennan

“I’m probably the only serious journalist who will ever say these words: “Tonya Harding changed my life,'” states Christine Brennan. The infamous 1994 Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan saga did change her life, and it propelled Christine to a new level of journalism – one that would open up even more doors for this determined and diligent Sister.

Christine, a proud Xi initiate, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University. While on campus she also won the chapter’s senior on-campus activities award, was a member of the Homecoming Court, and was responsible for the chapter’s intramural teams for three years.

When asked where she learned her craft Christine says, “I learned as a child, writing in my diary; at Northwestern, the best journalism school in the country with tough and demanding professors and teachers; and on the job, which is the best place to learn anything.”

Today Christine Brennan dons the titles of award-winning national sports columnist for USA Today, commentator for CNN, ABC News, PBS NewsHour and NPR, best-selling author, and nationally-known speaker. Named one of the country’s top 10 sports columnists three times by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Christine has covered the last 18 Olympic Games, summer and winter.

Christine was the first woman sports writer at The Miami Herald in 1981 and the first woman to cover Washington’s NFL team as a staff writer at The Washington Post in 1985. She was the first president of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) and started a scholarship-internship program that has supported more than 175 female students over the past two decades.

“Sports journalism allows me to combine two things I love: sports and writing. I grew up playing sports. I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved playing every sport and competing with the neighborhood boys – hardly the popular thing for a girl to be doing in the ’60s and ’70s. I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, even if it was playing baseball or football with the boys, or trading baseball cards, or watching or listening to countless sporting events on TV, on the radio or in person,” states Christine.

Christine Brennan

Christine is the author of seven books. Her 2006 sports memoir, Best Seat in the House, is the only father-daughter memoir written by a sports journalist. Her 1996 national best-seller, Inside Edge, was named one of the top 100 sports books of all-time by Sports Illustrated.

Christine has steadily served as a strong voice on some of the most controversial and important issues in sports. She has always striven to not only work earnestly, but to choose thoughtfully when it comes to her reporting. Her USA Today column in April 2002 on Augusta National Golf Club triggered the national debate on the club’s lack of female members. In December 2002, Sports Illustrated’s Golf Plus section named her one of golf’s 12 heroes of the year. Later, in August 2012, the story came full circle as Christine broke the news that Augusta National was admitting its first two women members.

Christine also broke the story of the pairs figure skating scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and the Russian judging scandal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Catching up with Christine

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave on your industry?

I would hope it would be a legacy of pursuing your dreams, no matter how unusual they are or how many obstacles might be in your path; of fighting for the rights of girls and women not only in sports but throughout our nation; of appreciating all the wonderful opportunities that come your way in life; and of being a journalist who is honest, diligent, respectful and undaunted, come what may.

What has been the most influential or pivotal moment of your career and how has it impacted you?

Interestingly enough, it was the Tonya-Nancy saga in January-February 1994. I covered every minute of that scandal from Detroit to Boston to Portland, Ore., to Norway as the Olympics writer for The Washington Post. There has never been another sports story quite like it, riveting the country with so many twists and turns. I wrote a book that became a national bestseller and led to more books and many other opportunities that gave me the freedom that I enjoy today. My network and cable television careers began then as well, simply because producers were looking for someone who could talk about all the craziness of that story. I’m probably the only serious journalist who will ever say these words: “Tonya Harding changed my life.”

What advice would you give to young women hoping to work in a career such as yours?

Journalism isn’t really a job. It’s a wonderful life of adventure. The secret to success is that there is no secret to success. If you find something you are passionate about, then you’re in luck. Work harder than everyone else. Treat people with kindness and respect. Write thank you notes. Double check your work, then triple check it. Look people in the eye and give them your name when you shake their hand. In other words, what worked in 1950 and worked in 1980 and worked in 2010 will work in 2040 and beyond.

Awards and Recognition

Among Christine’s honors, she was named the 1993 Capital Press Women’s “Woman of Achievement;” named the University of North Carolina’s 2002 Reed Sarratt Distinguished Lecturer; won the U.S. Sports Academy’s Ronald Reagan Award in 2002; won the Jake Wade Award from the College Sports Information Directors of America in 2003; won AWSM’s Pioneer Award in 2004; was named Woman of the Year by WISE (Women in Sports and Events) in 2005; received the inaugural Women’s Sports Foundation Billie Award for journalism in 2006; named Chi Omega’s 2006 Malinda Jolley Mortin Woman of Achievement; won Northwestern University’s Alumni Service Award in 2007; received Yale University’s Kiphuth Medal in 2013 and was named the 2013 Ralph McGill Lecturer at the University of Georgia.

She is a member of the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism Hall of Achievement and the Washington, D.C. Sports Hall of Fame. She has received honorary degrees from Tiffin University (Ohio) and the University of Toledo and is a member of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees.

Both the NCAA and the Women’s Sports Foundation honored her in celebrations for the 40th anniversary of Title IX in 2012.