USA Today columnist Christine Brennan speaks about the role of women in sports media

Dan Waldman, Reporter

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan (Medill ‘80, ‘81) returned to Northwestern on Saturday to discuss the importance of women in newsrooms, drawing on three decades of experience.

Brennan talked about the obstacles she overcame as a female sports journalist during her talk in Louis Hall. In 1981, she became the first female sports writer at The Miami Herald and later on she became the first woman to cover the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post.

During her Q&A, Brennan shared an anecdote about her own experience with gender discrimination in the newsroom, but said she did not let the negativity hinder her. A former colleague of Brennan referred to her as “skirt” when he saw her in the newsroom.

“That is unacceptable now,” Brennan said. “And in today’s world that is not allowed and it will get you into trouble.”

Brennan said his sexist comments did not deter her from achieving her goals at The Herald, and in fact, the man eventually ended up becoming friends with her and later expounded his knowledge of the sports industry with her.

“Well as my dad told me, ‘the man who was your tormentor turns out to become your mentor,’” Brennan said. “‘You took the guy who was out to get you and made him become invested in your career.’”

Brennan then answered students’ questions about the new Association for Women in Sports Media chapter starting at NU this year, advocating for more female representation in sports newsrooms during her speech. Brennan was the first president of the organization.

Medill Prof. Desi Hanford, the faculty adviser for AWSM, said that the new organization provides students with a great opportunity to network and make connections.

“We want to get the word out to as many students as possible,” Hanford said. “You don’t have to be a Medill student, for example, to be a member of AWSM. We want to make it clear that you don’t have to be female. … It’s being able to meet professionals like Christine and others in the profession.”

Along with about 100 Medill students, graduate students and students interested in sports journalism, both the secretary and the vice president of AWSM attended the meeting.

Communication junior Eliana Sanchez and Medill sophomore Alyssa Wisnieski, the secretary and vice president of AWSM, respectively, stayed after Brennan’s Q&A session to attract new members to join AWSM and explain their goals for the new chapter.

“Just meeting people like Christine is a great opportunity,” Sanchez said. “The biggest part of it is making connections with people who share your interests and are a little more experienced than you. I like that it’s not only other women but also men.”

Brennan concluded by saying people who have historically been underrepresented in the newsroom must accept who they are, and that she encourages students to embrace whatever advantages they have.

“Someone had to be the first, and I was glad it was me,” Brennan said. “Don’t be apologetic. You want to get your foot in the door. I haven’t spent one moment thinking about it. There’s nothing wrong with understanding your place in this world.”

Twitter: @dan_waldman
Email: [email protected]