Humble beginnings for Duane Rankin, left, and Leon Carter with the first class in 1993.
July 14, 2021

SJI founders eager to commemorate milestone 30th class

Victor Prieto

Leon Carter still remembers it as if it were yesterday. 

It was Super Bowl morning in 1993 in Los Angeles. USA Today founder Al Neuharth, then the chairman of the Freedom Forum, had announced at a brunch that his organization would be funding three years of a new venture called the Sports Journalism Institute. SJI’s mission was to train women and minorities, helping them get a foot in the door and, in the process, improve diversity numbers in sports departments. 

It wasn't until the next day that Carter, on a flight back to Norfolk, Va., finally had a chance to take it all in.

SJI’s first class would be that summer at Norfolk State University where Carter was the Freedom Forum’s first Journalist-in-Residence. Now, 29 classes and more than 350 graduates later, SJI is just one year away from welcoming its 30th class. 

“When I pause for a moment and think about the 30th anniversary of SJI, I shake my head,” said Carter, who is the editorial director for talent and development at The Athletic. “I never thought it would be a lifelong commitment, and it has been a lifelong commitment.”

Carter and fellow sports journalist Sandy Rosenbush first discussed the idea for SJI in August 1992 while in Detroit for the NABJ Convention. The idea of a robust week-long bootcamp to prepare students for their internships blossomed into a life of its own. 

“We were like, ‘OK, let's try to do something,’ but we never thought of it as a continuing thing,” Rosenbush said. “We thought maybe if that worked, maybe we hand it off to somebody next year … But all of a sudden, we were like 'this is kind of not what we thought we'd be doing.'  

“But it's wonderful and it began to feel like family very quickly.”

As Carter and Rosenbush planned for the 2021 bootcamp, they couldn't help but think ahead to how they’d like to commemorate No. 30. 

There's been some thought about a reunion at  Arizona State, which has been the hosting partner for the past three boot camps, including two virtually because of the pandemic. NABJ's convention later in the summer of 2022 is also a possibility, as SJI celebrated its 25th anniversary in New Orleans with NABJ. 

For Rosenbush and Carter, who have been with SJI since its inception, next year’s milestone will celebrate three decades of helping women and minority journalists find opportunities.

“The students touch our lives, hearts and minds as much, or more, than we touch theirs,” said Rosenbush, the 2019 Red Smith Award winner for her contribution to sports journalism. “That’s how it is with families.”

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