Incoming APSE president Jorge Rojas has covered events ranging from Olympics to Super Bowls, but it was conversations away from the field nearly 40 years ago that presented him with his first break while a student at the University of Florida.
Rojas, who was a reporter for the Independent Florida Alligator at the time, decided to interview students on campus for a story about the NCAA investigation into the football team for various rules violations. The local Gainesville Sun didn’t think to publish a fan reaction story, so Rojas’ professor turned in his piece to the publication.
It was a small step that nevertheless opened doors for Rojas.
“It ran on the front page next to the news stories,” Rojas said. “I got a little bit of a round of applause in our class the next day, just for having the initiative to go do that story … I think that kind of led me a little bit in the direction of sports.”
Fast forward approximately four decades, and Rojas, who spent 13 years with the Miami Herald as executive sports editor before joining The Athletic in 2017, is getting set to take over as president of APSE in June, a title that 48 others have held him before him since 1974.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Rojas will be the first APSE president with two parents of Latino descent. He is hoping to put his roots to good use within the Latino sports journalism community and the organizations that represent them.
“It’s important and significant to me,” Rojas said. “A long time ago, I tried to help launch the NAHJ Sports Task Force with prominent Latino journalists such as Jesus Ortiz, Paul Gutierrez, Jesse Sanchez and Jaime Cardenas, but we had limited success. … Hispanics are fragmented regionally and by nationality and there is still a long way to go.
“[We] need NAHJ to make sports more of a priority in the [organization]. Ultimately, my path led me to champion diversity through APSE [and working with NABJ, NAHJ and AWSM] to improve the relationships among our organizations. That work will continue, hopefully for a long, long time.”
Given his work in the field, it’s no accident that Rojas is next in line to sit on APSE’s top seat. Some of his career highlights include directing on-site coverage of seven Olympic Games, three Super Bowls, three NBA Finals, two World Series, nearly two dozen Orange Bowls and the 1996 Stanley Cup. Away from the newsroom, Rojas spent more than a decade as APSE’s diversity chair and co-founded its Diversity Fellowship Program.
Leading an organization as far-reaching and influential as APSE is a tall task in itself, but navigating the waters of a world still trying to get through COVID-19 presents a whole new set of challenges.
Regardless, Rojas has clear expectations for what he wants to achieve in his time as president, highlighted by three main goals: raising money, increasing membership and re-establishing pre-COVID locker room access for media members covering the major sports leagues in the U.S.
Before the pandemic, media members were given more leeway and access into the various North American leagues, especially in the locker room after games. With pandemic restrictions, the media had to make do with virtual video calls given by players and coaches made selectively available.
“I think [the current access is] very limiting, and they know it, and I think that there are a lot of pressures that are going on, including some put on by the players and players’ unions,” Rojas said. “It's not an easy thing. We have not been able to figure out an acceptable way for us to get our jobs done correctly and we're counting on the leagues and the commissioners to come around understanding the importance of sports media being able to tell the best stories about the leagues and the players.
“It's a proven formula that has served the leagues a lot better than it has the publications. The leagues have grown and grown, and the different media publications are still holding on strong and evolving, but it's very important to us to be able to do things the right way.”
Rojas concedes this goal may be accomplished before he even begins his term; in May, he and other sports editors plan to meet with commissioners and presidents from leagues that could include the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, NCAA and UFC to discuss various issues. Media access is expected to be a prominent subject.
Although he hasn’t put much thought into how he wants to be remembered in his post-president career, Rojas ultimately desires to keep APSE going in the right direction under his leadership.
“[I’ll be happy] if I could achieve one or two of the goals and keep us going forward … to make incremental progress to keep our organization strong,” he said.