Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Rodriguez an SJI alum who kept the faith

Chris Yangas
Class of 2016
APSE Bulletin

Brain cancer was one of the many challenges Juan Rodriguez showed he could handle better than most.
Rodriguez, a 1994 Sports Journalism Institute alum and the Miami Marlins beat writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, died of the disease on Jan. 18. He was 42.
Juan’s wife, Tiffany, said he constantly reminded her of one thing: “Cancer is not a death sentence, but instead, it’s a way to glorify God and to help others.”
Juan was a religious man. “He was always strong in his faith,” Tiffany said. That faith guided him after he was diagnosed. She said he focused on three things: staying positive, holding the family together and never complaining about his situation. No matter how large his brain tumor grew, it never grew bigger than his priorities.
“He always kept moving forward,” Tiffany said. “I think his journey helped others to be strong. He would change the subject whenever people asked him about his condition because he wanted to live life normally.”
Always a journalist, Rodriguez never made the story about himself. He worked diligently for three years with the disease, even though doctors didn’t expect him to live longer than eight months after the diagnosis.
“You never knew he had brain cancer,” said Greg Lee, Juan’s SJI classmate in 1994 and his former boss at the Sun-Sentinel. “All he focused on was baseball. And it was always about others because that’s the way he approached life. He didn’t want to focus on himself because he would rather help others even when he was sick.”
Alongside Tiffany, Juan’s legacy lives within his two children, 14-year-old Laura and 12-year-old Ryan. They will miss him more dearly than anyone, but they aren’t the only ones. More than 300 people attended Juan’s funeral.
Among them were three of Juan’s closest friends who also were his competitors: Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, Joe Frisaro of and Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post. Spencer delivered the eulogy, detailing how they traveled across the country together on the beat.
Spencer said Rodriguez’s humble, good-hearted nature made sharing cabs or grabbing lunch easy. And when it came to the clubhouse, colleagues said Juan was never the loudest or most talkative person in the room, but always had a voice.
“He was really a quiet guy, but in a good way. He did everything his own way, and he did it really well,” Spencer said. “We were all different, but there are some cases in other cities when the competing beat writers would refuse to acknowledge each other. We were four guys who were doing this for years and became friends from it.”
Juan’s work ethic reflected his personality. Even after his diagnosis, he rarely missed an assignment, something that impressed his colleagues.
He would ask: “Can I have my day off on Friday? Because I have chemo that day,” SunSentinel assistant sports editor Kathy Laughlin said.
“I’d tell him ‘Sure, do you want Saturday off, too?’” she joked.
Julie Engebrecht was Juan’s boss at his first internship more than 20 years ago, in sports at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. They’ve remained friends since.
“What impressed me most about Juan was that he never gave up,” she said. “I think he loved what he did and that was medicine for him. It amazed me that he was still on the road. It made me think he was going to get everything he could out of the experience.”
Tiffany noted her husband’s positivity and humility painted a picture that brightened the world for others. She said he always told her: “You can’t impose your will on brain cancer, but you can choose how you can live with it.”