When USA Today Sports columnist Christine Brennan was informed on Monday that she was the recipient of the 2020 APSE Red Smith Award, the names of past winners immediately started rolling off her tongue.
“It is such an honor,” she said. “I’ve been so lucky to work with or know quite a few of the winners of this award over the years, so to join them is very humbling. George Solomon (2003 winner) changed my life when he hired me at the Washington Post. I got my start at the Miami Herald where Edwin Pope (1989) showed me the way. When I was covering the NFL in Washington, Sandy Rosenbush (2019) was often on the other end of the phone, editing my stories.
“I mean, there are so many: Shirley Povich (1983), Ed Storin (1992), Bud Collins (1999), Dick Schaap (2002), Vince Doria (2009), Henry Freeman (2017). It’s really amazing to be thought of in the same light as so many of my role models and mentors.”
The Red Smith Award is presented annually by the Associated Press Sports Editors to a person who has made “major contributions to sports journalism.”
Brennan, an award-winning national sports columnist for USA Today, a commentator for CNN, ABC News, PBS NewsHour and NPR, a best-selling author and a nationally known speaker, received 110 points, based on a 5-3-1 system for first, second and third-place votes. Sally Jenkins was second with 93 points and Tom Boswell was third with 85.
Brennan received the most first-place votes, 15, by the 73 APSE voters.
“I didn’t know Red Smith, but of course I’ve heard so much about him,” Brennan said. “A boyfriend of mine years ago gave me one of his books and said, ‘You’ve got to read Red Smith,’ and I did. To be associated with his name in any way is such an honor and knowing the significance of the award and the people who have received it, I’m so humbled.”
Voting was open to Red Smith Award winners, APSE past presidents, APSE national officers, 10-year APSE members and alumni members who belonged to APSE for at least 15 years.
The five people in the voting after Brennan are automatically nominated for next year’s award. They are Jenkins, Boswell, Leon Carter, Bill Lyon and Mark Wicker.
Other 2020 nominees were Dan Shaughnessy, Stan Hochman, Terry Pluto, Tom Callahan, Tony Kornheiser, Loren Tate and Charean Williams. To be on the 2021 ballot, they will have to be re-nominated.
Brennan has been named one of the country’s top 10 sports columnists three times by the APSE. She won the 2019 APSE Breaking News award for her coverage of the Olympic sex abuse scandal, which she is still reporting on today with breaking stories on the figure skating sex abuse scandal. These exclusives are a result of the sources she has cultivated from 36 years of experience covering the Olympic Games. She has covered the past 18 Olympics, summer and winter.
Brennan was the first woman sports writer at The Miami Herald in 1981 and the first woman to cover Washington’s NFL team as a staff writer at The Washington Post in 1985. She was the first president of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) and started a scholarship-internship program that has supported more than 175 female students over the past two decades.
One of the most impressive things about Brennan is her dedication to giving back to journalism. She continues funding two annual AWSM scholarship-internships in her late parents’ names as well as two annual fellowships at her alma mater Northwestern University and two annual scholarships in her hometown of Toledo, one with her siblings. Through her association at Northwestern and other schools and through her website, she has mentored numerous aspiring journalists, especially women.
Brennan is the author of seven books. Her 2006 sports memoir, Best Seat in the House, is the only father-daughter memoir written by a sports journalist. Her 1996 national best-seller, Inside Edge, 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. She also broke the story of the pairs figure skating scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and the Russian judging scandal at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Brennan earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern. She is a member of the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism Hall of Achievement and the Washington, D.C. Sports Hall of Fame. She has received honorary degrees from Tiffin (Ohio) University and the University of Toledo and is a member of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees.
Among Brennan’s honors, she was named the 1993 Capital Press Women’s “Woman of Achievement;” named the University of North Carolina’s 2002 Reed Sarratt Distinguished Lecturer; won the U.S. Sports Academy’s Ronald Reagan Award in 2002; won the Jake Wade Award from the College Sports Information Directors of America in 2003; won AWSM’s Pioneer Award in 2004; was named Woman of the Year by WISE (Women in Sports and Events) in 2005; received the inaugural Women’s Sports Foundation Billie Award for journalism in 2006; won Chi Omega’s 2006 Woman of Achievement Award; won Northwestern University’s Alumni Service Award in 2007; received Yale University’s Kiphuth Medal in 2013 and was named the 2013 Ralph McGill Lecturer at the University of Georgia. Both the NCAA and the Women’s Sports Foundation honored her in celebrations for the 40th anniversary of Title IX in 2012.
Brennan said she had never really considered winning the Red Smith Award until about a year ago, when Henry Freeman told her he was nominating her.
“Just knowing that was a huge honor,” she said. “I can’t thank Henry enough for doing that.”
She got a chance to think about it a little more that summer when she attended the APSE Summer Conference in Atlanta and got a chance to see Sandy Rosenbush win the award.
“Sandy is such a great editor, such a no-nonsense, get-it-done person. It makes me smile thinking of her on the phone at the Post asking me, ‘Where’s that copy?’ when I was covering Joe Gibbs’ teams. So to follow her in this way is really great.”
Brennan said this is one of the most meaningful awards she has won because of who votes for it.
“These are my editors, my peers, my colleagues, friends and people I’ve known and looked up to for decades. These are the people who gave me a chance and helped me follow my dreams.”