Christine Brennan sits in her home office in Washington D.C. It is around 10 p.m. on the east coast but Brennan, after a full day of work, still has a lot of energy. While answering questions via Skype from USC journalism students, a smile remains on her face. She was once in their position, albeit in a very different era.
Brennan has always worked in a “man’s world.” She started in 1981 with the Miami Herald and became their first woman sports reporter. Although she had to break that barrier, the work came natural to her. She did face harassment in the workplace. For example, a fellow employee referred to her as “skirt” because she was a woman. In that time when many women were not working in sports, Brennan brushed it off and continued to do her job. Just two years after receiving the Herald job, she covered the Miami Hurricanes during their run to the 1983 national championship.
Brennan credits her success and longevity to her ability to put up blinders and do her job.
“Ignore it and just move ahead with your beautiful lives,” Brennan said.
The 80s were a time of firsts for Brennan. Not only was she the Herald’s first woman sports reporter, but she also became the first woman to cover the Washington Redskins beat for the Washington Post in 1985 and the first president of the Association for Women in Sports Media in 1988. As president, she started a scholarship-internship program for female journalism students. It has honored over 140 students.
Perhaps most impressive is her Olympics résumé. The 2018 Winter Olympics will be her 18th in a row. She enjoys the drama and emotion of The Games. It has a one-and-done feeling that national sports don’t have.
“It’s just so raw and the emotion of covering it is much different than covering a season of NFL, NBA or MLB,” Brennan explained.
There is a sense of uncertainty surrounding the fame of these Olympic athletes. Some vanish into obscurity after one Olympics and others, like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, go on to break records and obtain financial security for the rest of their lives. Athletes compete in the Olympics because they love the sport and want to compete for their country. Brennan used Jackie Joyner Kersee as an example. She did not know what was there for her, she just loved the sport.
Having been to so many Olympics, Brennan has seen her fair share of the world and seen many different cultures interact. When she first started covering The Games, the athletes were doing something that hadn’t really been seen in American sports. They were intersecting sports and culture. More recently, American athletes have been speaking out against politics. Part of the reason is they can control their own message and brand now.
“Athletes control their message 100 percent and that’s nothing we’ve seen in 20 years,” Brennan said.
Much like athletes, Brennan used to refrain from publishing opinions. She called the Washington Redskins by their nickname because, as a beat writer, it was her job to report on the team. As she climbed the ladder and began writing more columns and analysis articles, her opinions were featured more in pieces. Throughout her sit-down with the students, she referred to the Redskins as “Washington Football Team” because of her distaste for the team’s nickname.
Brennan will soon do an article comparing athletes’ involvement in social issues in 1968 to their involvement today.
She understands the culture of journalism is shifting and new platforms are emerging. She doesn’t see opinion pieces dying out, though. She believes there will always be a desire to read the third party.