Four members of the Rhoden Fellows Class of 2019 were among the 2,442 credentialed media at this year’s Final Four in Minneapolis.
The Rhoden Fellows Initiative started two years ago and is operated through ESPN’s The Undefeated for the next generation of sports journalists, primarily for HBCU students.
“This is my first Final Four,” said Rhoden Fellow and Morgan State senior Isaiah George. “We’re here to shadow different jobs within the NCAA and also the host school, the University of Minnesota, and how they put on the event.” George posted social media stories: “It’s been interesting working with the digital team,” he said.
The fellowship is named for its founder, award-winning journalist William C. Rhoden and The Undefeated writer-at-large. “It basically first started up for journalism, then it dawned on me that these kids need to learn the entire industry and what goes on,” Rhoden told the MSR before Monday’s Texas Tech-Virginia finals.
“We, as Blacks, aren’t in those spaces — Black folk are few and far between. I thought it was important that they see the totality of the industry, not just journalism or the press box.”
On Sunday night, Tiffany Hoyd, a senior at Howard, and Deja Harrison, a Grambling sophomore, got an unplanned on-air appearance on KMOJ while visiting. “We weren’t expecting to be on the air, and me and Tiffany had a real good debate about a Beyoncé song. To come in here and be on the air live, it was an amazing experience!” said Harrison.
“I’ve learned there is a lot that goes into this,” Hoyd said on the Final Four.
The three Rhoden Fellows the MSR spoke to are all striving to be in sports media, as well as thrive in it: George and Hoyd will graduate from college next month and Harrison in a couple of years.
“When I graduate, I can do [just as well], if not better than my counterparts and my peers in this industry,” predicted George.
“I haven’t necessarily decided” what lies ahead for her after graduation, said Hoyd. “I have a couple of options,” she noted. “I’m learning a lot from Mr. Rhoden on how to make it to where, when I do make it in this space, I will be successful.”
Harrison added, “This is what we want to do when we graduate college. My Final Four experience has been really great. I’m able to be here because Bill Rhoden wrote a fellows program for us.”
“I thought it was great to get them to see how stuff goes,” Rhoden said of his “Final Four” fellows.
Rhoden’s first Final Four was in 1985. He was one of four inductees Monday in the United States Basketball Writers Association’s 2019 Hall of Fame class. “I was surprised and proud in that order,” he told us. “I was surprised when I got the call — anytime you get recognized [because] there are so many outstanding people doing what we do. You never take that stuff for granted.”
A proud HBCU grad (Morgan State) whose first job was at the Afro-American in 1972, Rhoden has, over the years, written for Ebony and theNew York Times.
Now at The Undefeated, Rhoden said he loves the freedom it offers him: “It’s been a great writing experience being on a Black-run website. I’m pleased with it,” he said.
FINALLY — It’s a safe bet that there probably were more Blacks as stadium workers at the Final Four than covering it, or it seemed that way.
“The Final Four is a special event every year,” CBS Analyst Clark Kellogg said of his 23rd time covering it. “I’m just grateful and enjoy what I do.”
Northside native Khalid El-Amin worked his first Final Four for CBS Sports Network as an analyst. As a player, El-Amin helped lead UConn to the 1999 NCAA title. “It has been a whole lot of fun being able to cover the game from a different standpoint,” he said.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.