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Chamber guests respond to women’s sports issues

Nearly 100 Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce guests got to enjoy a keynote speech from award winning USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan at a luncheon last week.

Brennan’s column in USA Today makes her the most widely-read female sports columnist in the nation. Brennan, a Toledo native, spoke for nearly 45 minutes and every person at the historic downtown Toledo Club was listening.

“What an inspiration and uplifting person. That she seems to credit living in Toledo and being an advocate for Toledo is awesome. She gives of her time and even in her columns brings up players who have broken records as her heroes,” states chamber guest Denise Martin, president of Martin & Martin Agency, Inc., an East Toledo insurance agency.

Brennan became the first woman to cover the Washington Redskins in 1985 as a staff member at the Washington Post.

When she entered NFL locker rooms for interviews, she was going where few women dared to go at that time. It remains an issue today, nearly three decades later.

The first time she had to walk into an NFL men’s locker room was for the Miami Herald a few years before her Washington Post stint. She called her father, Jim Brennan, Sr., for advice.

“So, I called back to Toledo and I said, ‘Do you have any advice for me?’ And he said, ‘Keep eye contact at all times,” Christine said, jokingly. “All these years later what I do see — just their eyes.”

She added seriously, “It’s a place I have to go to do my job. When I’m done, I get out of there as fast as possible because I have to go back to write my column or do whatever I need to do. So, it’s a workplace.”

Brennan added she believes men sportswriters have the same rights to enter a female locker room, but explained that the most popular professional women’s sports, golf and tennis, do not require locker room interviews.

Martin, in an email to The Press, wrote, “I enjoyed that she was animated about the rights of females in the locker rooms and men in female locker rooms. Equal on both sides, no discussion,”

Brennan also spoke to the chamber about covering the Olympics, about women’s rights issues, and about current issues in sports, such as the Penn State child abuse scandal and the NBA lockout.

She noted how Title IX levelled the playing female for both sexes, explaining that before girls’ sports were mandated, “50 percent of the population was not learning the meaning of competition and teamwork.” She believes the cliché “throw like a girl” is no longer relevant because of the advances in girls sports competition today.

In 2001 and 2003, Brennan was named one of the nation’s top 10 sports columnists by the Associated Press sports editors in the category of the nation’s largest newspapers.

The author of seven books, Brennan won the Women’s Sports Foundation journalism award four times. Her 1996 book, Inside Edge, was named one of the top 100 sports books of all time by Sports Illustrated. Her 1998 book, Outside Glory, won an Ohioana Library Association book award.

Her sports memoir, Best Seat in the House: A Father, A Daughter, A Journey Through Sports, is the first father-daughter memoir written by a sports writer.

It describes her late father’s influence while she was growing up in Toledo. Jim Brennan would take a young Christine to watch University of Toledo football games, and many of the guests in attendance could relate.

“Sports were a way of networking for her father and a way of connecting with Christine. She talked about the hard working ethics that we have in Toledo and mixing that love of the game into the family life,” Martin said.

“You could tell that she admired her father and that sports were a way that he used to communicate with her. He enjoyed that she loved sports and gave her the confidence to break the gender barriers.”

Chamber director Sarah Beavers added, “I think any female who grew up watching sports and playing them can relate. My father and mother always encouraged my sister and myself to play sports and be active — to not ‘throw like a girl’ and throw like an athlete.

“We would take trips to Cleveland to watch the Indians play and Detroit to watch the Tigers as well. It was something we did as a family together. And now as a mother, I am able to share the same experiences with my children. It is something that is very special. Sports do create a bond between a parent and child and memories that last a lifetime,” Beavers continued.

Martin believes the type of relationship that existed between Brennan and her father continues with her own family today.

“I think of my daughter, who played competitive soccer, and how the bond between her and her father was and is stronger because they shared the love of the game,” Martin said. “Sometimes men are unable to communicate how they feel but can show their love in participating or supporting their daughters in sports.

“I was never able to enter into that strong bond that they share with the strategies and technical advice about the game. They will always share that just as Christine has with her father. I feel that the discipline, life lessons on fairness, good sportsmanship, and hard work are a strong influence on both my daughter and on Christine. She had a great easy way about her that was enjoyable even to a non-sports person.”

Among Brennan’s honors, she was named the 1993 Capital pres Women’s “Woman of Achievement”; Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events; winner of the 2005 National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators’ Women’s Honor Award; recipient of the inaugural Women’s Sports Foundation Billie Award for Journalism; and winner of Chi Omega’s 2006 Woman of Achievement Award.

Brennan was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1998, she was elected the first president of the Association for Women in Sports Media. As president of the nationwide organization, she initiated a scholarship-internship program for college-aged women that now honors eight students annually. She was also named AWSM’s 2004 Pioneer Award winner.

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