Long Beach has a long history of producing first-round draft picks in sports. Whether in football, baseball, or basketball, the city is brimming with success stories on the courts and fields. The city hasn’t had as many big names in sports media, however–but Long Beach product and Poly almuna Sydney Rockett is hoping to change that.
Rockett is as close to a first-round draft pick into the world of sports media as there could be. She is leaving for Connecticut this week where she’ll begin work as a production assistant in the ESPN Next program, dedicated to finding and nurturing the next generation of talent for the Worldwide Leader. Rockett just graduated USC with her master’s in journalism last month, and said the news she’d been hired at ESPN was a dream come true.
“It’s that golden ticket feeling,” she said. “I was in shock even when I got the first interview–to get to the fourth round, when they told me I got it I literally blacked out. They kept talking to me and I was just gone.”
ESPN Next is an 18-month program that places up-and-coming talent in one of the network’s different divisions. Rockett will soon find out if she’s working in college sports, NFL coverage, for Sportscenter, or in another high-profile spot. The goal is for ESPN to bring in young talent and allow them to grow “on campus.” With the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering the program for a year and a half, competition for the 18-member program this Summer was fierce, with thousands putting in their applications.
“Going to school in the pandemic wasn’t easy, and it feels like my hard work was for something,” said Rockett. “I literally prayed for this job and a week after I graduated I got it. I didn’t have a backup plan, this was it for me.”
Rockett has a lot of adjustments to make–she’s lived in Southern California her whole life, playing soccer at Poly and at Cal Baptist before enrolling in the USC journalism master’s program. She said she didn’t have any actual cold weather clothing in her suitcase as she was packing for her trip to LAX. After the things that the Rockett family has endured and overcome, those kinds of adjustments seem like child’s play.
When Rockett was a 14 year-old freshman at Poly, her father passed away of a heart attack. A beloved longtime local firefighter, Darren Rockett’s passing left a huge hole in Sydney’s life, as well as in her household. Her mother, Jeanne, had her hands full–she had three daughters still under the roof at the time with Alyse (a freshman at Long Beach State), Sydney (a freshman at Poly), and Daryn (10 years old).
“My mom put us first, she had three of us to worry about and for years she said, ‘It’s not about me,’” said Sydney. “I was 14, I could’ve went either way, the good way or the bad way. It was not easy on her, but she made sure we always had what we needed.”
Along with the strong foundation of the historic Long Beach staple Antioch Church behind them, the Rocketts endured. Now, as painful as that time 10 years ago was, the Rocketts successes have been a public testimony to their ability to persevere. In addition to Sydney’s ESPN gig, Alyse is dancing professionally and recently appeared onstage at the BET Awards, and video of Daryn reading and reacting her acceptance letter to Stanford went viral not long ago.
“It was my mom and all her prayers,” said Sydney. “I feel like everything means more to us because of what we went through.”
The family got to take a victory lap with friends, extended family, and their church community at a big party for Sydney at the family’s El Dorado Park Estates home last weekend. After that she had to buckle down and start packing. She lands with ESPN at an interesting time in the company’s history–after losing rising star Maria Taylor to NBC following an ugly public airing of the company’s dirty laundry, with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols intimating that Taylor had been promoted because she’s Black.
“Maria Taylor is my favorite reporter of all time, and when everything came out I wasn’t surprised,” said Rockett. “One of my favorite professors at USC was telling me how hard it was for her as a woman working in sports, and she said, ‘I’m white, you’re Black, it’s going to be even harder.’ So I’m never surprised by any story like that, that’s anywhere that you’re a Black woman. I will say that in college I’ve heard all kinds of stories about other networks and places–it’s a problem anywhere. I think the ESPN story got the most attention because it’s ESPN and because the reporters are well-known.”
With her family and her community behind her, Rockett is ready to go out and conquer the world.
“I’m coming out there with all my Long Beach and USC gear,” she said. “I’m excited, and I’m nervous, too. But I can’t wait to tell people I’m from Long Beach–that’s my favorite line.”