By Jenni Carlson
ATLANTA — Sandy Rosenbush wasn’t prepared for the tears.
Back in 1993, she and Leon Carter started the Sports Journalism Institute. The inaugural class of college students met for nearly three weeks of intensive training early that summer, then fanned out across the country to do internships. Rosenbush and Carter had plans and schedules and goals for the pre-internship bootcamp, but they had no idea how the experience would impact those young journalists.
“By the time the students left, they were in tears at the idea of moving away from this class,” Rosenbush said. “Classmates would become like brothers and sisters.”
She marveled then.
She marvels still.
“It was one of the most inspirational moments of our lives,” she said. “We didn’t realize how much the students would bond and we didn’t realize how inspired we would be, not just by their progress but by how much they wanted to have the support of not just us but one another.”
It’s one of the reasons Rosenbush and Carter are still heading up SJI nearly three decades later.
Because of her involvement in the program and her impact on sports journalism, Rosenbush received the Red Smith Award during a lunch banquet Tuesday during the 2019 APSE Convention. She was the 39th recipient of the award and the third woman to receive it.
She referenced the 300-plus graduates of SJI when she accepted the award.
“Which doesn’t belong to me,” she said. “It belongs to all of them.”
Carter, who introduced Rosenbush, recalled the genesis of SJI. It sprung out of a meeting during the National Association of Black Journalists’ convention in 1992. Rosenbush was there in Detroit representing APSE as the incoming president – she was the first woman to hold the title – and she and Carter met with representatives of the Freedom Forum.
“When we went to that convention … ,” Rosenbush said of herself and Carter, “both of us were interested in doing something that would bring more people like ourselves into the business.”
Rosenbush and Carter toyed with the idea of a program built around high school students, but after talking to others in the industry, they realized working with college students was the way to go. Those students would be more prepared for work in sports journalism, and their ability to do internships immediately would benefit the students and the program’s industry partners.
“In those early years, the Freedom Forum did a lot of the logistical work for us,” Carter said. “In the last 20 years, it has been on us.”
He joked that both he and Rosenbush have taken turns telling the other, “This year is my last.”
But neither has walked away.
Now, they are beginning to see the next generation of SJI leaders spring out of the program’s alumni base. Greg Lee, one of those alums, was the first to come back and help.
He was one of the alums Carter asked for thoughts about Rosenbush.
“She knew when to be tough on us,” Lee said, “and when to give us a break.”
That was true as a student and is now as a mentor.
One day, Lee was tasked with getting lunch for everyone at SJI. He found a sandwich shop and placed an order through the restaurant’s app. The sandwiches arrived, and soon everyone realized there was a problem. Lee had failed to specific cheese for the sandwiches, and the app defaulted to the top choice.
Every sandwich came with melted blue cheese.
“Needless to say,” Carter said, “the food-order duties were back in Sandy’s hands.”
Rosenbush’s attention to detail made her a great editor, too. George Solomon, the longtime sports editor who hired Rosenbush at the Washington Post, called her the best “pencil editor” he’d ever known.
Her career started at the Tallahassee Democrat, then took her to the Clearwater Sun, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Post. She moved overseas to the International Herald Tribune in Paris before returning to the United States where she has worked for the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and ESPN.
Last summer, Rosenbush moved to a part-time role at ESPN.
She has worked over the years with numerous SJI alums, a fact that makes her proud. But according to the past students who Carter quoted, they were the ones who felt fortunate.
“She was the single most important person early in my career,” Richard Deitsch, who worked with Rosenbush at SI and is now a media reporter for The Athletic, told Carter. “The truth is, I cannot repay her for what she did for my career.
“I can think of no one more deserving of the honor she receives today.”
Carter agreed, quoting the legendary Jackie Robinson, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”