January Series 2009: A life in sports January 22, 2009
"This ain’t no dress rehearsal,” Brennan repeated to a January Series crowd at Calvin’s Fine Arts Center on Wednesday. It was the advice her father, Jim Brennan, gave to her as she grew up, and it’s the advice she chooses to give students—both young and old—about chasing their dreams.
"It would have sounded more logical for me to say I was going to walk on the moon then to say I would be a sports journalist,” said Brennan, the most widely read female sports columnist in the country. “It’s important to follow your heart, follow your passion.”
Following the game
For Brennan, that passion was, and always will be, sports. From playing “sandlot” baseball with the neighborhood boys to keeping score of Toledo Mud Hens’ games over the radio, throughout her youth Brennan was enamored of sport.
"I think it was so intriguing to listen to games (on the radio),” said Brennan. “It took me to a far away place.”
Growing up in the late 1960s, an era where females were dissuaded from spending time on the playing field, Brennan discovered a personal niche within what was, at that time, a man’s world.
She surveyed the box scores of the Toledo Blade sports section. She stayed up late to catch the end of a scintillating overtime win for the Toledo Rockets. She had season tickets to watch University of Michigan football games—even though her family lived in northern Ohio (which is still considered Woody Hayes territory.)
And through it all, her parents did something that several others wouldn’t have. They approved.
"I had my own personal Title IX,” said Brennan. “I had my dad.”
"At a time when parents were telling their kids ‘No,’ my mom and dad were telling me ‘Yes.’”
After graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Brennan assumed her future would lay in the political world. Her father was politically active in his community. But she was soon hired by the Miami Herald to be a beat writer for the Miami Hurricanes football team, becoming the first woman to cover sports full-time for the world-renowned newspaper.
Her beat in the football landscape magnified when she took a job with the Washington Post in 1985. She reported on the Washington Redskins for three seasons—just the right length of time, she concedes—before shifting gears to the Olympic beat: her forte.
What she terms the “salad bar” of sports in her autobiography, Best Seat in the House, the Olympics provided an ultra-saturated environment for a sports aficionado like Brennan, who just can’t seem to get enough. In fact, she still can’t get enough. She’s been to the past 13 summer and winter Olympics, dating back to the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
"To me, (the Olympics) are the greatest thing because they don’t happen every year,” she said. “The Super Bowl? You’ll see it again 52 weeks later. It’s really hundred of Super Bowls put together.”
Now, Brennan serves as a columnist for USA Today while traveling the U.S. to speak on issues like sports controversies, gender equality, the economy’s impact on professional sports and whatever her audiences wish to discuss.
At the conclusion of her presentation, Brennan fielded questions from attendees—including some that were watching the lecture from satellite-viewing sites in Muskegon and Ann Arbor.
Life before Title IX
A bulk of Brennan’s discussion was devoted to Title IX and its affect on females in the sporting world. While she illustrated the limited opportunities available to her generation (the 1960s and 70s), she lauded the strides made in the world of women’s sports in the 21st century.
"We didn’t know what we didn’t have,” said Brennan of her childhood during a forum held earlier that day. "We didn’t march on Washington, but we should have.”
"(Sports) is about making better Americans. Whatever you will be, you will be better off learning teamwork and life lessons.”
Brennan’s closing remarks reminded students of the importance of pinpointing a goal and pursuing it. Life, she believes, is not a practice. It is the big game.
"I’ve never thought about working for the weekend,” said Brennan.
~by Chaz Amidon, sports information