Iliana Limón Romero, college sports and pro soccer editor at the Orlando Sentinel. Photographed, September 2, 2016. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel)

By Christina Long

While brainstorming ways to foster connection in a year of virtual meetings and video chats, Iliana Limón Romero and the Association for Women in Sports Media’s regional events committee decided to host an online panel on being a better ally to colleagues in the sports media industry.

The committee had seen through social media and other events that there was a strong desire among media members to learn more about making the industry more inclusive and “go beyond a tweet.” More than 80 people, from college students to veteran editors, signed up for the event held Feb. 11.

Limón Romero is an APSE member and chair of AWSM’s board, and she recently announced her new role as deputy sports editor at the Los Angeles Times after 13 years at the Orlando Sentinel. Through her work with AWSM, APSE, NAHJ and more, she is dedicated to making sure that more women, people of color and LGBTQ+ journalists are given opportunities in sports media.

She took time recently to talk about allyship, changes and lessons she’s learned during her career.

Q: What were the highlights of AWSM’s “Be a better ally” panel?

A: The questions were specific, and the answers were detailed, and they related information that tangibly could be used and an understanding of what to avoid and what to do if you do accidentally run into a situation where you think you’re being helpful but you’re not as helpful. I think just defining allyship was very helpful. I think going through each level and saying, “What can a student do? What can a young professional do? What can a veteran do? What can their manager do? What can someone who’s working for a team do?” If I had to say one thing that people came away with, that was what I heard overwhelmingly. But in general, they were just happy to have the opportunity to listen and to have questions answered.

Q: What changes have you seen over the course of your career in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry?

A: I think that there are a lot of people who are aware of challenges that women in sports media face, and in particular, women of color, or people from LGBTQ+ communities. That’s a level of recognition, and awareness and general support, that maybe didn’t even exist five years ago or 10 years ago, so that’s wonderful. I think people have felt like if they have a different viewpoint or if they are uncomfortable, they feel more empowered to speak out. But what I would consider to be bad behavior somehow has seemed more acceptable in the past, I’d say, five years as well. I also think that social media — while it is of high value for engagement, and opportunities to build audience and to share information — it also has made us targets in very specific ways. People who are angry, or upset, or disappointed have opportunities to vent that frustration with some level of anonymity and to attack in ways that can range from annoying to dangerous. I think women still wrestle with, “Do I speak out? Do I say something?” For a long time, there was just the guidance, “Oh, you’ve got to have thick skin. Just toughen up, it’s fine, don’t let it show and don’t suggest that it’s bothering you.” But that’s not always the right answer. I think we’ve made some gains, and I really appreciate the way people have prioritized what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of speaking out and pushing back.

Q: How have you seen the sports media landscape change throughout your career?

A: I think when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t kind of even realize how much has changed until you take a long view and look back and think about, “Whoa, that’s so different than how we used to do it.” For me, I don’t view it as a negative. I get excited about great storytelling and about great opportunities to connect with an audience and share unique information. I love that I go to work each day and learn something new. The platform for that may change. In fact, it’s constantly changing. I think we have to have conversations about where our audience is at and how we can still engage them, but I hope that as tired as we are and as defeated in some workplaces we are, I hope that we still have that energy, that we still present in that way, like, “Let’s try something different. Let’s make sure that we’re always trying to reach our audience where they’re at, and then also attract them to where we need them to be.” But it’s a different challenge. It’s new. I think the core principles of great storytelling are still the same, and I think just getting people to talk with us and having great conversations that lead to great journalism, that doesn’t change just because we’re doing it on different platforms. I’m looking forward to us continuing to find interesting ways to do what we do.

Q: What has been the hardest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

A: I think in my personal journey, it’s my battle with time. I think I am overly optimistic at times about how much I can get done in a certain amount of time. I think the single biggest thing that I’ve learned that has helped me improve the most is navigating that. We in the industry are losing so many resources, so you want to do everything. You have to make certain adjustments, and you have to be honest and have real conversations about the time and the toll on you personally. I think also as a woman and as a person of color, you also think that you have to work harder and you have to do more in order to feel like you’re being seen at a professional level and to feel like you’re being viewed as somebody who can be counted on. I continue to wrestle with it. I really enjoy what I do, both for my work and for the nonprofits that I work with. It’s very rewarding, but at the same time, I have to be honest about the balance of time with my family, and how to not let people down by saying I’ll do something and then not do it. Really figuring out how much time something actually takes and being honest with yourself about that and only committing to the things that you can get done in that time and respectfully saying “I can’t” to the other ones. Prioritizing time with your family and friends or whoever is really important and brings balance to your life. That is going to help you have longevity and be healthy. It’s going to allow you to do your best work.