Christine Brennan: from girl jock to champion sportswriter

For her 10th birthday, little Christine Brennan, a big sports fan, wasn’t interested in the latest toy, the latest Barbie or even the latest kid fashions.  She wanted a subscription to Sports Illustrated.

Christine got that subscription and continues to subscribe to this day, more than 30 years later.  How was it that her parents, especially her Dad saw nothing wrong with such a gift?  This was the early ‘60s after all.

“My Dad was my own personal Title IX, before there was such a thing,” said Brennan in a recent telephone interview.

Christine Brennan is now a multi-award winning sports columnist for USA Today, a frequent television commentator, and the bestselling author of “Inside Edge,” a behind the scenes look at the world of figure skating.  She’s covered every Olympics since the Los Angeles Summer Games in 1984, and in 2001 and 2003, the Associated Press Sports Editors named her one of the country’s top 10 sports columnists.

As a reporter Brennan covers her assigned beats with tenacity.  As a columnist she’s not afraid to challenge the sports world’s sacred cows.

For example, when the Masters, one of golf’s biggest tournaments kicks off next month at the private Augusta National Golf Club, the membership will still not include women.   In 2002, Brennan’s column disagreeing with that policy helped kicked off a national debate, and she’s as vehement about the issue today as she was then.

“I wish all clubs that discriminate would stop doing it, but they are private entities without tax breaks anymore (one assumes that’s universal now),” says Brennan.  “The difference is Augusta is so public, and takes in so much money from the public, and wouldn’t be allowed to function for one day in the real world with its discriminatory policies.”

Write up a laundry list of sports journalism firsts and Brennan’s name would be on it:  she was the first woman sportswriter at the Miami Herald; she was the first woman sportswriter to cover the Washington Redskins for the Washington Post; she was one of the first women sportswriters allowed into NFL locker rooms when Pete Rozelle mandated equal access in 1985. Before that time, Brennan and her female colleagues had to settle for what they could get.

“Some weeks you’d go in the locker room, other weeks you’d have to wait in the loading dock.”

Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, the oldest of four, Brennan was a girl jock when the term was still in its infancy.  Her Dad, Jim Brennan was an avid sports fan and he shared that love of competition with his oldest daughter.  In her 2006 memoir, “Best Seat in the House,” Brennan describes her special relationship with her Dad, their mutual love of sports, and how he helped instill in her the confidence to deal with the often pugnacious personalities populating the stadiums and locker rooms of professional sports.

As a kid, Brennan was the only girl on her block with her own catcher’s mitt and was such a good athlete, she was often the first one picked by the boys when sides were chosen for teams.  Football, basketball, baseball, tennis and golf; you name it, she played it.  And her Dad cheered her on, gender stereotypes be damned.

“I think he just believed in our country, and that every person, male or female, deserves exactly the same kind of upbringing.   I learned early on not to stereotype ‘cause here the biggest feminist I knew was a rock-ribbed Republican.”

Brennan had experience as a writer from a very young age, crafting previews of weekend football, baseball or basketball games.  Her younger brother was her fact checker.

“I would have him be my assistant and check statistics in the Toledo Blade, and write up little reviews, I guess more previews, on the major league game of the week on my Mom’s manual typewriter.

By the time Brennan reached the undergraduate journalism program at Northwestern University, she was a sports expert but ironically, she did almost no sports reporting in college.

“There was no sports writing class at Northwestern and I’m glad there wasn’t,” she says.  “I needed to find out about journalism.  In fact, I hope that’s one of the reasons I’ve had whatever success I’ve had over 30 years is that I treated sports as real events to cover as a journalist”

As news gathering has changed with the advent of technology, she’s also embraced social media, especially Twitter.

“I look at Twitter as little journalism.  It’s like the Wild West.  I love being able to be a bit of a Lone Ranger and do my own stuff.”

But since her little brother’s moved on, she now checks out her own facts.