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News stories mistakenly report James Brady was University of Illinois wrestler

Former White House Press Secretary James Brady at a 2011 visit to the press room named in his honor
Former White House Press Secretary James Brady at a 2011 visit to the press room named in his honor
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

James Brady, White House Press Secretary for Ronald Reagan who was seriously wounded during an attempt on the President’s life in 1981, died Monday at age 73. However, contrary to numerous news stories, the gun control advocate had never been a wrestler at University of Illinois.

Widely disseminated news reports on Brady’s death featured this quote: “He graduated in 1962 with a degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was on the wrestling team.”

Brady did indeed graduate from the Big Ten school in the stated year, with the stated degree. However, the press secretary originally from the Land of Lincoln did not wrestle for the Fighting Illini.

In the five-year history of College Wrestling Examiner, we have sought to acknowledge the passing of those who have wrestled or coached wrestling at the college level some time in their lives with our "Deaths in the College Wrestling Family" features. Not having heard that Brady wrestled at Illinois until Monday’s news stories, it was a revelation to this writer could not take at face value, thus begging further investigation.

Early research seemed to confirm the “Brady-as-wrestler” reports... yet these initial contacts all appeared to be referring back to the original news reports of the former press secretary’s passing. So College Wrestling Examiner contacted the University of Illinois, where Matt Wille, Assistant Director of Athletic Communications, did some considerable digging on our behalf… and came back with this answer:

“We do not have James Brady listed as a wrestling letter winner in our record book. I asked our Varsity I (alumni relations) contact if he had any information on whether he was on the team and am waiting to hear back. I will let you know when I find out.

“I was not able to find any photos in our Digital Photo Archive either…”

In a follow-up email after further research, Wille wrote, “We weren't able to find any record of him being on the Varsity wrestling team here… The only other athletic info we could track down was that he served as a gymnastics manager.”

Just to be clear: The purpose of this article – and my research -- is not to denigrate James Brady’s significant contributions. It is to set the record straight regarding inaccurate reporting., in the same spirit as a 2013 College Wrestling Examiner story refuting media reports claiming Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a wrestler at an Ivy League college.

Brady’s life and contributions

James Scott Brady was born on August 29, 1940, in Centralia, Ill., according to a biography on the Brady Campaign website. He then headed north to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a political science major. While in school, he worked for US Senator Everett Dirksen, Illinois Republican. After graduating from Illinois in 1962, Brady worked for the Illinois State Medical Society and in advertising and public relations.

In 1973, Brady moved from Chicago to Washington, where he worked in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Office of Management and Budget. He worked for Delaware Senator William Roth and as press secretary for the 1980 presidential campaign of former Texas Governor John Connally. After Connally dropped out, Brady joined fellow Illinois native Reagan’s ultimately successful campaign.

Brady became White House press secretary when Reagan took office in January 1981. Just two months later, on March 30, Reagan, Brady and two law-enforcement officers were struck by bullets fired by John Hinckley in an assassination attempt outside the Washington Hilton.

Because of the severity of his injuries, Brady never returned to work as press secretary. However, the Reagan administration maintained his title for the rest of its almost eight years in office. Daily White House press conferences are held in what is now called the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

James and Sarah Brady became advocates for gun limits, establishing what became known as the Brady Campaign. The 1993 law that requires federal background checks of gun buyers in the U.S. was titled the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and is commonly called the Brady Bill.