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Sportswriter Christine Brennan Shares Stories from Sochi at President’s Lecture Series Address

President's Lecture SeriesPresident's Lecture Series speaker Christine Brennan and ODU President John R. Broderick pose with sport management students Nia Copeland (left) and Caitlin Walsh (right).

Nationally renowned sportswriter Christine Brennan told a President's Lecture Series audience March 4 that she was honored to speak at Old Dominion University because of its commitment to equality in women's athletics.

A former athlete herself, Brennan has been a trailblazer in women's sports journalism, writing for more than three decades about issues such as the men-only membership policy of the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters golf tournament.

Brennan said she appreciated the opportunity to speak at ODU, a school that led the way in providing opportunities to female athletes in the 1970s and 1980s, after the federal government's passage of the gender equality bill Title IX in 1972.

"I think Title IX is the most important law in our country in the last 42 years. And it's from places like this, Old Dominion University, that a revolution was born," Brennan said.

A best-selling author and one of the country's best-known sportswriters - male or female - Brennan spoke Tuesday night to an audience that included ODU varsity athletes, coaches and athletic administrators, and sport management students.

Recently returned from covering the Sochi Winter Olympics, her 16th Games, Brennan remarked on how coverage of sports has changed since she was hired as the Miami Herald's first female sportswriter in 1981.

"The sports section used to be an escape. You would grab the sports section and it would take you to a different place and time," she said. With stories today about concussions, or drug testing or terrorist threats regularly appearing in the sports section, "it's much more now a mirror of society," Brennan added.

For that reason, Brennan said the Sochi Olympics presented a fantastic experience for a journalist. Stories of monumental athletic feats were interwoven with stories about massive cost overruns for the Games, Russia's repressive anti-gay laws and the threat of terrorism in one of the world's most dangerous regions, the Caucasus.

Brennan said the Russian hosts unexpectedly conducted a harmonious Games, but noted that the country's actions in Ukraine started as visitors were still leaving Sochi.

Despite the obvious geopolitical and economic downsides, Brennan said the Olympics are still career highlights for her every time, because of the opportunity to speak with gold medal winners "five or 10 minutes after the biggest moment of their lives."

Brennan said particular highlights for her were the ice dancing gold medal won by the American pair of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the inaugural women's ski jumping event and the United States-Russia hockey game that ended with a thrilling U.S. shootout win.

"After that game, you saw these multimillionaire professionals all of a sudden being so nationalistic in the best of ways," Brennan said. "It makes you feel really great that the Olympics give you that every now and again."

Brennan also spoke about being a tall, athletic girl growing up in Toledo, Ohio, and asking for a baseball glove for her eighth birthday. It began a life-long journey of sharing the love of sports with her late father. Her 2006 book, "Best Seat in the House," is the first father-daughter sports memoir written by a sportswriter.

"My father, this conservative guy, this rock-ribbed Republican, became the biggest feminist I ever knew" in supporting her passion for sports journalism, Brennan said. "He became my own personal Title IX."

Brennan was the first woman to cover the Washington Redskins as a staff writer at The Washington Post in 1985. She was the first president of the Association for Women in Sports Media and started a scholarship-internship program that has supported more than 130 female students over the past two decades.

Brennan is the author of seven books. Her 1996 national best-seller, "Inside Edge," about the sometimes-shady world of international figure skating, was named one of the top 100 sports books of all time by Sports Illustrated.

She is a leading voice on some of the most controversial and important issues in sports. Her USA Today column in April 2002 on Augusta National Golf Club triggered the national debate on the club's lack of female members. In December 2002, Sports Illustrated's Golf Plus section named her one of golf's 12 heroes of the year. In August 2012, Brennan broke the news that Augusta National was admitting its first two women members.

ODU's President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring fascinating personalities who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Presenting discussion of timely topics, the series puts diversity first, offering an international lineup of authors and educators, business innovators and political figures.