June 11, 2020

Red Smith winner Brennan blazes trail for women journalists

Kamryn Walker

Christine Brennan, the 2020 recipient of the Red Smith award, broke glass ceilings while lighting the way for women in the world of sports journalism.

Entering the NFL season in 1985, regulations on women being allowed into the locker rooms were not universal yet. The spotlight shined bright on Brennan as the first female to cover Washington’s NFL team at The Washington Post, and most interestingly, the fact that she would be the first woman in the locker room.

“It was certainly unacceptable,” Brennan said. “The locker room is a workplace, can you imagine that a man can go into the workplace and a woman cannot?”

George Solomon, former Red Smith recipient and former sports editor for The Washington Post, traveled to New York to discuss this issue with the NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Rozelle later sent out a letter mandating equal locker-room access for women and men reporters.

Every team began to institute this policy.

“If me being on the beat had any small part to play in that decision then that is wonderful,” Brennan said. “It is a decision that should have happened several years before that.”

Brennan, a Toledo, Ohio, native, is the recipient of the 2020 Red Smith award, considered the highest award in sports media. Brennan was honored for her “major contributions to sports journalism.”

Brennan is a sports columnist at USA Today, on the Olympic beat, a commentator for ABC News, PBS NewsHour, NPR and CNN. She is also a best-selling author.

After earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northwestern, Brennan became the first female sports reporter at the Miami Herald, gaining three years of experience covering primarily college and professional football. Her career then took her to the place that she had always had her heart set on, The Washington Post.

“The job of my dreams was to work for The Washington Post,” Brennan said. “I felt like I walked into the pages of a journalism textbook. I just felt so fortunate to have that job.”

Solomon hired Brennan in 1985. Her determination and aggressive work ethic outshined her colleagues and made her a prime candidate.

“She will see issues that have not been reported on as well as they should be, and she will go after them and do a great job,” Solomon said. “That is her greatest value; she is relentless in pursuit of a good story that deserves to be covered.”

Brennan has worked with many mentors over the years that have given her life-changing opportunities, which inspired her to be one of the organizers for the Association for Women in Sports Media, acting as the first president and creating a scholarship-internship program.

“So many women have been told ‘no’ in this industry,” Brennan said. “I really wanted to be able to give back because I have been given so much.”

The relationships Brennan has developed have been key to her success, one of which is the most senior member of the International Olympic Committee, Dick Pound. She was able to uncover a worldwide breaking story – the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics – by just giving an old friend a call, the postponing of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“The secret of breaking a story is that there is no secret,” Brennan said. “You pick up the phone and do Journalism 101. By far this was the biggest scoop of my career; it exploded internationally within just a few minutes.”

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