Northwestern alumni shine in the sports media world 50 years post-Title IX
Title IX’s passage not only expanded opportunities for female athletes, but also for women in sports media. Many Northwestern women alumni have become leaders in the industry, covering everything from the Rose Bowl to the Olympic Games.
The Daily spoke with five alumni about how Title IX has shaped their lives and journalism careers.
Helene Elliott (Medill ’77)
Title IX was passed in 1972, shortly before Helene Elliott (Medill ’77) started covering sports as a NU student.
“There was a lot of resistance by coaches and administrators to having a woman cover sports teams, but I persevered,” Elliott said. “When you’re young and you’re brave and you have dreams and you’re determined to follow them , you’re strong.”
Elliott started her career at the Chicago Sun-Times and has covered sports at the Los Angeles Times since 1989. She made history in 2005 as the recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award — the first female journalist to receive the honor.
Elliott said Title IX gave journalists the chance to share the untold stories of women in sport, particularly the perseverance of those who played before the legislation was passed.
Christine Brennan (Medill ’80, ’81)
Christine Brennan (Medill ’80, ’81) remembers meeting Elliott, who was then The Daily’s sports editor, when she was a freshman and Elliott was senior. Brennan said seeing Elliott in a leadership position was very meaningful.
“If I didn’t meet Helene, I still would have become a sports journalist,” Brennan said. “But to see her in that position showed me the way it was possible. I don’t even know how to quantify how valuable that moment was for me.”
Forty-six years later, both women are sports columns at two of the country’s leading publications: Brennan at USA Today and Elliott at the Los Angeles Times. They have each covered at least 18 Olympic Games and are both inductees in the Medill Hall of Achievement.
Brennan also recalled crossing paths with Elliott during different Olympic Games and reflected on how far they’ve come since that day in the newsroom.
“We did laugh, as we have on several occasions, about meeting that first day in The Daily,” Brennan said. “Here we are standing side by side in the mixed zone at the (2022) Beijing Olympics, interviewing Nathan Chen, or trying to interview Kamila Valieva, or getting lost together trying to figure out how we’re going to find the field hockey venue at the 2016 Rio Olympics.”
Vicki Michaelis (Medill ’91, ’91)
Entering the Rose Bowl Stadium for the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in Los Angeles was a moment Vicki Michaelis (Medill ’91) will never forget.
“I remember walking into the Rose Bowl with Christine Brennan. And I remember her turning to me and just going, ‘This is incredible, right? Look at all these women and these girls in the stands,’” Michaelis said. “We had never seen anything like that ever before.”
Over her decades-long career in sports journalism, Michaelis has covered sports for the Palm Beach Post, the Denver Post and USA Today, where she was the lead Olympics reporter. Now the director of the John Huland Carmichal Sports Media Institute at the University of Georgia, she is teaching the next generation of sports journalists.
Michaelis said her female students have told her they appreciate seeing a woman in leadership.
“We’re very much now in this if-you-see-it-you-can-be-it situation,” Michaelis said. “It’s really awesome when I have these women come through and they’re like, ‘You know , it’s so cool when we get here and there’s a woman doing this.’ Because even in this day and age after they’re participating in sports, they wouldn’t necessarily know that naturally.”
Ngozi Ekeledo (Medill ’12)
For Ngozi Ekeledo (Medill ’12), watching Black women both play and cover sports on TV made her realize a career in sports media was possible.
Ekeledo recalled seeing athletes like Serena Williams and looking up to sports journalists like Pam Oliver and Lisa Salters.
“These are faces that look like mine — doing my dream,” she said.
Having played sports throughout high school, Ekeledo said she knew she wanted to work in sports coming into college. She got involved with SportsNight at Northwestern News Network during her freshman year and continued to work there during her time at NU.
Ekeledo has served in several roles during her career, from covering North Carolina sports teams for ABC11 in Raleigh to serving as a host and reporter for the Big Ten Network. She has covered what she calls the “trifecta” in sports media: the Super Bowl, the NCAA Men’s Final Four and the Olympics.
Ekeledo said when she finds herself as the only woman at an event, she reminds herself of her worth.
“I remember that I deserve to be here,” Ekeledo said. “There’s women that have fought to give me this opportunity to be here in these spaces.
Ava Wallace (Medill ’15)
Ava Wallace (Medill ’15) played soccer and tennis during childhood and club lacrosse at NU — experiences that have been key to her life and career.
“It gave me so many of my mentors in life and kind of my first people who believed in me who weren’t my parents,” Wallace said. “It gave me huge self confidence that I use every day at work. (It) gave me leadership abilities.”
Wallace started her career at The Washington Post covering Virginia and Virginia Tech athletics. She said it was sometimes hard to find her place alongside reporters from local papers, mostly men, who had covered these schools for years.
Now working as the Washington Wizards beat reporter for The Post, Wallace said having more female coaches is one of the next steps in the fight for equality in women’s sports.
“A theme that I kind of heard from a lot of people this year around the (Title IX) anniversary was we need more female coaches,” Wallace said. “We’ve talked about it a lot and who’s going to be the first female NBA coach and things like that, but I think more women coaches (generally) would make a huge difference in that inequality.”
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