When Christine Brennan spoke at the Medill School of Journalism convocation in June, she issued a charge to the students who were about to leave college and embark on their careers.
“Thirty-four years ago, I was in the same place you were,” Brennan said. “Thirty-four years from now, I want one of you to give the graduation speech. That’s my challenge for you in 2048.”
Then, she added one more request.
“If I’m around, wheel me into the back so I can listen!” Brennan recalled, laughing.
As a sports columnist for USA Today and a contributor to National Public Radio, PBS, ABC and CNN, Brennan has become a voice not just in sports but on issues involving sports and society. She recently gave commentary on the National Geographic Channel’s miniseries “The 90s: The Last Great Decade?” on two landmark instances of pop culture and sports overlapping – the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson for the slaying of his ex-wife and her companion, and the saga of 1994 Winter Olympic figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, a story that Brennan followed from the day that Kerrigan was attacked in Detroit at the U.S. Figure Skating championships to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
“We will never see another story like that,” Brennan said. “No matter how weird and crazy Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong gets, nothing will be like Tonya and Nancy. I feel so great that I was on top of that story from Day One.”
As one of the Association for Women in Sports Media’s founding members and as its first president, she helped start an organization that advocates for its membership and women in the field of sports journalism.
As a trustee at Northwestern University’s Medill School, she also serves as a mentor and a sounding board for aspiring journalists.
“When I was 13 or 14, I knew that I wanted to be a journalist and it’s a real passion,” Brennan said. “The people I met at Northwestern, this is the adventure of a lifetime we’ve all embarked on. I feel so strongly about that and I love to relate that to people I speak to around the country. I feel very strongly that we all should be giving back, and that’s one of the chief tenets of AWSM as well.”
Her work with AWSM, she believes, goes hand-in-hand with her work in higher education.
“What we do with AWSM and what you do giving back to students, it’s encouraging young people to follow their dreams and helping them follow their dreams,” Brennan said. “That means everything to me. I devote hours of my week to mentoring students, answering emails, talking to people, giving them advice and encouragement. That’s a very big thing for me. It will always be a big thing for me.”
In her presentation to Northwestern’s undergraduate and graduate students, Brennan focused on the bonds she forged as an undergraduate and as a master’s student at the school in Evanston, Ill., which has produced a number of notable personalities in sports journalism.
“I told the story of how Northwestern and Medill is such a powerful influence throughout your life,” Brennan said. “The friendships, the chance meetings, Medill never leaves you.”
She gave the audience specific instructions: Look to your left. Look to your right. Look at the poeple next to you. Look at the people behind you and in front of you.
“You will know these people for the rest of your lives,” she told the graduates.
“Giving back is a huge part of being a successful person, but I’ve been very lucky and very fortunate to have so many things happen,” Brennan said. “Still, it’s imperative, absolutely imperative for me to give back and to encourage people who are coming into the next generation.”