By Marquel Slaughter
The announcement of Orlando Sentinel sports editor Iliana Limón Romero receiving the 2020 National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Dale award came as no surprise to many.
And certainly not to reporter Luis Torres, who was grateful that Limón Romero – the lone female Hispanic sports editor at a major daily paper in the country – helped him land his first job at The Jackson Sun in Jackson, Tennessee.
“I would not have landed that gig without her helping me out,” said Torres, who has been freelancing for Limón Romero for five years. “I can’t thank her enough for what she’s done for me, and for countless others in this business.”
It was just one example of how Limón Romero fits the bill for the Dale award, which recognizes someone who “has gone above and beyond to ensure fair and accurate representation of Latinos in the media.”
“It was an honor to be selected because I know there are so many NAHJ members around the country who provide opportunities for other Latinos in the media,” she said. “To receive this recognition is still very surprising, but I’m very appreciative of it.”
Limón Romero is aware of the responsibility that comes with her role as America’s only Latina sports editor at a major paper. She wants to make sure she’s not the only one much longer while also helping to add necessary voices to newsrooms all over.
“Diversity and inclusion is really important because it helps us better reflect the communities we aspire to cover, and it helps readers feel more invested to us,” Limón Romero said. “If we stray so far from what’s really going on out there, we become irrelevant. Nothing wrong with having someone who isn’t a person of color, or woman, in the sports department, but adding representation for others is important because we bring a different perspective to the table.”
Lisa Wilson, managing editor of The Athletic NFL who has known Romero for about eight years, also spoke about the Sentinel sports editor’s generosity.
Last year in Atlanta, Limón Romero was very busy for most of the APSE summer conference but went out of her way to participate on a diversity panel. Wilson said Limón Romero really wanted to help influence other editors in the room on the importance of having diverse staffs, and how there are many good stories being missed out on by not having diverse newsrooms.
In February, when Limón Romero couldn’t stay in St. Petersburg, Florida, for the entire APSE winter conference, she found two days to help Wilson and others judge APSE contest entries on-site.
Wilson was also delighted to see that Romero donated free AWSM registrations for her birthday on July 20.
“She’s running a sports section, but she’s also so giving of her time when it comes to mentoring young journalists and being active in the professional organizations,” Wilson said. “She’s very giving of her time. I’ve always admired that about her.”
“The uniqueness of her voice – she is the only Latina running a sports department – is so important in our industry,” Wilson added. “It’s a different voice and certainly a very important one to have in her newsroom, APSE and other newsrooms. Her perspective and unique look on things is something we need a lot more of. For her to be such a strong leader, and lend her voice, is an inspiration to all of us.”
Roger Simmons, managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel, began working closely with Romero about 10 years ago. That was when the paper’s huge football preview was due in two weeks. The Sentinel’s sports editor had just left, and the assistant sports editor was on the way out at the time.
Limón Romero, who was covering the University of Central Florida’s football team then, offered her services and helped the football section continue its streak of APSE Top-10 honors.
She also played a big role in producing an extra edition of the Sentinel when Orlando got its Major Soccer League team.
“I’m really happy she received the award,” Simmons said. “Iliana’s not the type to go out looking for recognition. She does so many things in the background and doesn’t try to draw attention to herself. She’s motivated by helping people or giving coverage to a certain area. She takes that responsibility very seriously.
“She is definitely proud of being the only Latina sports editor in the nation. She wants to make sure that she serves her community well – both here locally and also the Hispanic community – by setting a great example.”
Torres also sees those qualities in Limón Romero.
“Her ability to make a connection with her staff is more than just sports for her,” he said. “She actually goes above and beyond, asking ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Do you need any help with anything?’ ‘Do you need a day off?’ With her, it’s about being a human being. She’ll accommodate you without hesitation.
“She’s involved with so many things. I always laugh and say, ‘It’s a 24 hour day for the rest of us, but it seems like she runs on a 30-hour cycle.’ Professionally and personally, she’s remarkable to me.”
Limón Romero, of El Paso, Texas, joined NAHJ while in college at the University of New Mexico. She credits the organization for opening doors that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to her. She worked at The Albuquerque Tribune before coming to Orlando in 2007. At the Sentinel, she was the UCF athletics beat reporter for four years before taking on editor roles.
It’s been a slow process of adding people of color – especially women of color – to leadership positions. Romero hopes to close that gap and continue to pay it forward.
“It’s really important to me that we have those diverse voices that are represented, so they can more accurately represent their communities and help hold people accountable,” Romero said.