Tributes to 2019 Red Smith Award winner Sandy Rosenbush from some of her former Sports Journalism Institute students:

The one thing Sandy has consistently done is stayed in touch with SJI alumni and it’s not just to be doing it.

She knows where you are, what you’ve been doing and expresses her support of what you’re doing.

And she’ll also set you straight at a drop of a hat.

I remember being at least 15 years removed from SJI and sending her my resume. Her first reaction to it?

Why don’t you have SJI on here?

I’m thinking, that was so long ago, but she still saw it as relevant — and she was right because I’m part of a legacy and standard of excellence SJI represents. 

You come out of that program with the right mindset, you’re ready to make it happen in the business. 

So I put it back on there, haven’t taken it off and have even greater pride in being an SJI alum. 

Thanks for reminding me of that, Sandy.

Congratulations. Well deserved. 

Duane Rankin
SJI ’93 (1st class)

Sandy is the best type of pioneer, one who left a door open for others to follow in her footsteps. She’s an accomplished journalist who has mentored countless others and I’m so happy that she is being bestowed this deserved award.

I can vividly remember her question of how many of us had been to the East Coast when my class arrived in Philadelphia some 15 summers ago. I naively asked if Chicago counted. She looked at me a little funny. 

I had a lot to learn about journalism and life at that time and Sandy and SJI were kind enough to provide me with the template for the  type of structure and work ethic I needed in such a short time. Everyone needs someone like Sandy — a shining beacon in their life to show them support and guidance. I am lucky and fortunate that she entered my life and career and congratulate her endlessly on this achievement. 

Jonathan Abrams
Class of 2004

What do I appreciate most about Sandy? 

Brutal honesty. If you want sugar, bring your own bubblegum.

Years before Gordon Ramsay, Robert Irvine and Simon Cowell earned reputations as brash and passionate TV show personalities, Sandy scared the @#$%^ out of our SJI boot camp class in Phoenix. 

Talk about writing on deadline: Her (potential) wrath pushed me to new heights. (Hey, it worked…)

In 1999, I arrived at SJI boot camp hoping to receive candid critiques of my work — something I was unable to obtain from college professors.  

Sometimes, you get what you ask for.  

While I shouldn’t repeat many of the four-letter words Sandy used to describe my amateur scribbles, I can explain their meaning: Sandy cares.

Gary Estwick
Class of 1999

Sandy’s career always has been an inspiration to me, but the woman herself is even more impressive. She’s tough but fair, supremely skilled and fearless. And with SJI, her generosity of spirit, mind and time know no bounds. She truly has changed lives.

Rachel Bachman
Class of 1994

The thing I love most about Sandy is that she is always ready and prepared to ask the next question. In other words, Sandy is always practicing active listening. When you talk to her you can feel her engagement the entire time. She’s in tap with every word you speak, the wheels turning in her head, invested in the conversation. And the response that follows makes it clear that she is in tune with what you were saying — that it mattered. 

During my time at SJI, I felt this across the board — whether I was asking her a question about the skill, expressing some of the troubles I was having with the craft, and most importantly during down time where we could talk real life things. There is something special about this kind of person, the person that is willing to truly listen. There’s a big difference and Sandy has mastered that. No matter if that’s a product of years within the business or if she is just built that way, there’s a beauty in every single bit of it. And in my mind, the ultimate measure of respect and care is to not just hear someone, but to understand. So, thank you Sandy for using life’s greatest tool with everyone you come in contact with — the ability to listen. 

Andre Toran
Class of 2018

Few people in the field of journalism have as great of an impact on those they come in contact with as Sandy Rosenbush does. An inspiration and a trailblazer for women in sports media, Sandy is the reason I am where I am today. Her dedication, commitment and sacrifice to SJI has helped hundreds find their place in this world, including myself. Sandy has and continues to open the door to create long and lasting change not only in newsrooms themselves but with how sports are portrayed worldwide. She’s fierce. Strong. Supportive. There’s no one else in the world like Sandy, and I will never take that fact for granted.

Alaa Abdeldaiem
Class of 2018

When I first got to Columbia, Missouri for the SJI in 2015, I knew Sandy was really strict and she was going to push us to do well. Being that I was getting prepared to intern at ESPN that summer, I knew that she along with Mr. (Leon) Carter and Greg were going to put us through some adversity. I am so grateful that she did.

Being able to be a part of SJI and to learn from Sandy is an experience that I often think about and will never forget. Sandy is a truly deserving of this prestigious honor. Through her body of work from Sports Illustrated to ESPN, she has helped so many of us to start in the media industry. Her impact is and will still continue to be felt years down the road in this industry.

Congratulations, Sandy! Job well done! 

Wilton C. Jackson
Class of 2015

Sandy, I appreciated everything about you during our week together in Phoenix. You were great to be around and was no nonsense when it came to sports check and just things journalistically. You were hard on us but in a good and caring way. A lot has been accomplished in your career, and you deserve all the recognition you get. Congrats on being the recipient of the APSE Red Smith Award. 

Clevis Murray
Class of 2019

Whether you’re filing a deadline game story or making a life and career-altering decision, Sandy keeps it real. While she’s caring and supportive, she’s brutally honest if she needs to be and will push you to be thorough, accurate and at your best. Through the Sports Journalism Institute, Sandy helped springboard my young career and instilled lessons and values that’ll last a lifetime.” 

Tashan Reed
Class of 2018

My favorite Sandy story was SJI 1999/APSE Convention at Phoenix. We’d connected via letter writing the fall before.  Me, a sophomore at Indiana  University on NO professional published experience, trying to get on at Sports Illustrated, LOL!!! Of course, she tells me I’d missed the internship application deadline. But she’d been kind enough and respectful enough to review my amateur clips, get a sense of who I was, my direction, and where I wanted to be in the Industry. So most editors see a kid from Indiana, a journalism student from IU entering sports writing and immediately thought, Bobby Knight. That was true but I was definitely rocking a more left of center approach to my sports writing. I was a Serena Williams fan before it was trendy. I loved more of the sports out of the mainstream daily coverage zone, kept an Olympics notebook and thought I’d endeavor to be a cross between Bud Collins and David Wallechinsky.

So Sandy writers back, a two-page letter, and recommends I apply for SJI ’99, which I do earnestly. Here I am that June mixing with all these national sports editors and all these experts I knew could mold my entire career. Day 3, I believe, editors are popping in and out of the SJI classroom doing meet and greets. And lo and behold, I meet Don Skwar of The Boston Globe. Hearing me mention the IU in my intro, he launches into questioning my take on Ole Bobby Knight! Lol PERFECT segue, I’m thinking. Small talk. Give my supported opinion, maybe toss in a few jokes, but out-brown-nose my peers simply off provincial appeal.

I pause to clear my throat and before I can utter a word, Sandy interjects a spiel about me being an Olympics expert reporter and aspiring to greater. SMDH probably as infuriating at the time as it was comical but in a lesson-building way.

Sandy was a big part of the reason I was even at the Phoenix convention. Why I was well prepared for my summer internship at the Tacoma News Tribune. Why I landed a dream feature writing internship at the Olympic Committee within six months and a beat for a local magazine traveling with the IU basketball team, full coverage my senior year (incidentally the same season Knight got canned). And why I eventually made it to Sports Illustrated for a time.

At the time, I honestly think I was driven to prove her a bit wrong. Thriving in my gig at the USOC but also demonstrating a broader commitment to becoming a more complete writer and reporter covering the IU basketball team.

What I love and now appreciate about that Skwar encounter was Sandy’s indirect lesson of teaching me to define myself in this industry. Her interjection a true image of what I’d conveyed to her in communications prior. And I think this concept has been a great jumping off point because entering an industry dominated overwhelmingly by white men, I credit Sandy with encouraging me to stand in the industry as an African-American reporter, unapologetically. Understanding that issues of race and gender were assets to be embraced in newsroom contribution and writing perspective — just as being male, young and from Indiana were. And I’d contend this was a rather bold outlook given just how many journalists of color and women  I’ve encountered who think de-emphasizing difference and placing priority on simply fitting into whatever newsroom culture made for sharper reporting experiences.

So for the past 20 years, Sandy has remained a friend and mentor. One of the few who gives it to me straight. She has been comfortable talking openly and honestly about every aspect of business and industry. She gave me some invaluable and much needed guidance as I launched my own Houston sports magazine (still in print!) 13 years ago. She remains one of the few colleagues my family knows on reference by first name. And I hope my career and my testimony like so many other SJI students blessed to learn directly from her will someday make her proud.

Jo’el Steven Rouse
Class of 1999

I wouldn’t be where I am today without Sandy. In fact, many journalists across this industry wouldn’t be either. Aside from being an outstanding journalist, her work as a mentor and her leadership in Sports Journalism Institute has helped generations of young sports journalists navigate this business. It says a lot about the person when they not only do great work in this demanding business but also spend countless hours of their own time helping improve diversity and guiding others.

James Wagner
SJI Class of 2006

Sandy was so influential during my years as a sports journalist – I am so thrilled that she’s receiving this award. This is definitely an SJI-related tale as I remember just being welcomed by someone who I knew cared about me as a journalist. 

On my way to SJI, I hit every delay possible heading to the boot camp. And imagine that this was a time when I didn’t have a cellphone so I had no way to get in touch with Sandy or my parents once I was on the plane. I remember heading to the airport at San Francisco or San Jose and when I arrived I learned that the flight would be delayed by several hours. My mom, who drove me to the airport, and I discovered if I flew out of another airport that I could make the trip that day. So we rebooked flights or something and then headed to another airport. I jumped on the plane only to be delayed on the tarmac on a connecting flight out of Atlanta for almost three hours. I was so worried I would be late and miss all sorts of important things during our first day.  

Again without a phone I couldn’t call Sandy or the hotel to let them know I was running so behind to SJI.  I think I was supposed to get to the hotel around 3 p.m. if I had made the original flight and stayed on schedule but I didn’t get to the hotel until past midnight. It was crazy. 

Once I checked into the hotel we couldn’t find my room so the hotel put me in my own room for the night and made sure to relay these two messages to me 1) call your mom and 2) call Sandy when you arrive. So, here I am at 12:30 a.m. calling Sandy’s room to let her know I arrived and she was concerned first that I was OK since she hadn’t heard from me all day and that the next morning I would meet everyone and get introduced. 

She cared about my well being and wanted to make sure I had gotten in OK after a crazy travel day. Sandy took time that week to let all of us know that we mattered and that she wanted us to do well. In later years, she helped introduce me to other professionals in my field, broadening my horizon in so many ways. I was coming up during a time when women, especially women of color, were trying to break into the field to take on big jobs at big newspapers. And it was admirable to hear of the doors that opened for other women sports journalists. 

She’s amazing . and I hope she continues to inspire many other young journalists. I have long since left sports journalism but the memories of SJI and the impression it made on my life will forever leave a mark on my soul. 

Clarissa Aljentera
Class of 2001 

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