After years as the lead local anchor on Miami's WSVN, Sanchez moved to cable news, first as a daytime anchor at MSNBC and then later at CNN, where he began as a correspondent and ultimately rose to become an anchor. On CNN, he hosted his own show Rick's List and served as a contributor to Anderson Cooper 360° and CNN International, where he frequently reported and translated between English and Spanish. Sanchez was fired from CNN on October 1, 2010, following controversial remarks he made on a radio program. In July 2011, Sanchez was hired by Florida International University, to serve as a color commentator for radio broadcasts of the school's football team.
Sanchez began his broadcasting career at WCCO's satellite sister station KCMT (now KCCO-TV) in Alexandria, Minnesota, while still in college. He was hired at WSVN (formerly WCKT) in Miami in 1982 and became a weekend anchor shortly thereafter. He worked briefly for KHOU in Houston before returning to an afternoon anchor position with WSVN. Sanchez was hired at MSNBC in 2001.
In 2003, Sanchez left MSNBC to return to the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale TV market, where he hosted a local talk show on WTVJ. Sanchez later anchored on then-WB affiliated WBZL (now WSFL) until he joined CNN in 2004. He won an Emmy Award in 1983 for his series titled When I left Cuba.
Sanchez joined CNN in September 2004, reported from around the US and the world. For eight months, in the interim between Paula Zahn and Campbell Brown, he anchored Out in the Open at 8 p.m ET. On January 18, 2010, he began hosting his own two-hour show in the afternoons, Rick's List, where he invited viewers to share their opinions and questions via social media. His use of social networking tools to create a citizen-driven news program was recognized by the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and has generated mostly positive feedback. After the cancellation of Campbell Brown's show, Sanchez again took over the 8 p.m. EST slot with an evening version of Rick's List, which continued until the premier of Parker Spitzer.
On September 30, 2010, Sanchez was interviewed on Sirius XM's radio show Stand Up With Pete Dominick. Sanchez's interview occurred on the final day of his show in the 8 p.m. time slot, and he was reportedly angry about being replaced by CNN's new Parker Spitzer talk show as well as the occasional jokes made at his expense on The Daily Show:
It's not just the Right that does this. 'Cause I've known a lot of, you know, elite Northeast establishment liberals that may not use this as a business model, but deep down when they look at a guy like me, they see a guy automatically who belongs in the second tier and not the top tier.... I had a guy who works here at CNN who's a top brass come to me one day and say,... 'You know what, I don't want you anchoring anymore. I really don't see you as an anchor. I see you more as a reporter. I see you more as a John Quiñones....' Did he not realize that he was telling me, 'When I see you, I think of Hispanic reporters'? 'Cause in his mind, I can't be an anchor. An anchor's what you give the high-profile White guys, you know? So he knocks me down to that and compares me to that, and it happens all the time. I think to a certain extent Jon Stewart and Colbert are the same way. I think Jon Stewart's a bigot.
After Dominick questioned him, Sanchez retracted the term, "bigot," and referred to Stewart as "prejudicial" and "uninformed," but he defended feeling discriminated, saying, "He's upset that someone of my ilk is almost at his level" and that Stewart is "not just a comedian. He can make and break careers." When queried on the issue of whether Stewart likewise belonged to a minority group on account of his Jewish faith, Sanchez responded:
Yeah, very powerless people. [laughs] He's such a minority. I mean, you know, please. What—are you kidding? I'm telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart. And to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority?
A day after his remarks, CNN announced that Sanchez was no longer employed with the company.
Some believed that Sanchez's departure was motivated by other reasons. CNN president Jonathan Klein, who was a supporter of Sanchez and had given him increased air time, was fired just one week before Sanchez, leading some to believe that Sanchez's firing may have been motivated by other reasons in addition to the comments. New York Magazine wrote, "The rumor that Sanchez was already on his way out in the wake of former CNN president Jonathan Klein's ouster from the company has been circling the Sanchez story."
During his time at CNN, Sanchez once called President Barack Obama a "cotton-picking president", a remark for which he apologized, explaining that he had grown up in the South where the phrase was a colloquialism. He had also inaccurately attributed quotes to Rush Limbaugh, for which he also later apologized.
Despite his firing, upon leaving CNN, Sanchez said, "... I want to go on record to say that I have nothing but the highest regard for CNN and for my six wonderful years with them. I appreciate every opportunity that they have given me, and it has been a wonderful experience working for them."
In the days after the incident, Sanchez apologized several times. In an appearance on Good Morning America, Sanchez told George Stephanopoulos, "I said some things I shouldn't have said. They were wrong. Not only were they wrong, they were offensive." He added, "... I apologize and it was wrong for me to be so careless and so inartful. ... But it happened and I can’t take it back and, you know what, now I have to stand up and be responsible."
Sanchez also called and personally apologized to Stewart. He released a statement expressing regret for his "inartful" comments, adding "I am very much opposed to hate and intolerance, in any form, and I have frequently spoken out against prejudice." On October 20, 2010, Jon Stewart told Larry King that Sanchez should not have been fired for what Sanchez said in the radio interview; Stewart called the firing "absolute insanity", and stating that he was not "personally hurt".
In a letter to Abraham Foxman—the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)—Sanchez apologized once again, writing, "... [T]here are no words strong enough for me to express my regret and sorrow over what I said. It was offensive, and I deeply, sincerely and unequivocally apologize for the hurt that I have caused. I tell my children that when they make a mistake, they should take responsibility, atone and work to repair whatever they have done. ... I cannot undo the offense or controversy I caused; all I can do is to try and learn from this experience and strive to become a better person."
Following a meeting with Foxman, Foxman said Sanchez can now "put the matter to rest", adding that he hoped Sanchez can now move on with his life and work.
In late 2010, Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach held a public event at Manhattan's Carlebach Synagogue with Sanchez, and commented, "Our community has enough problems without looking for anti-Semitism where it doesn't exist. Rick Sanchez was humiliated and his reputation dragged through the mud. ... The Jewish religion says that a man's most cherished possession is his good name. Rick deserves the opportunity to reclaim his." Sanchez and Rabbi Boteach spoke for nearly two hours.
In 2011, Sanchez visited Israel as part of an ADL-sponsored trip for Latino journalists. Sanchez spoke at the ADL's National Executive Committee Meeting in 2012, where Sanchez recounted, "the long and unexpected voyage ... [and] personal journey that led me to a man I now call a friend: Abe Foxman, who has led me to know myself and led me to grow in unexpected ways."
On July 27, 2011, the AP reported that Rick Sanchez had started a job as a radio announcer for Florida International University. Starting in September 2011, Sanchez provided analysis of the FIU football team.
Rick Sanchez returned to cable news as a columnist on Fox News Latino in September 2012. Sanchez was offered a short term employment with the website. Since joining Fox News Latino, he has appeared on the Fox News Channel as a contributor. He also started as a news contributor for MundoFox at the end of 2012.
In 2013, Sanchez returned to South Florida with a weekday show on Clear Channel affiliate WIOD 610 AM radio. Replacing Todd Schnitt in afternoon drive time, Sanchez did a stint on a morning show, that led into the Rush Limbaugh Show. Due to low ratings, Rick is no longer on the radio, as of October 2015.
Sanchez also actively posts video segments "In All Honesty," often reflecting from the Latino-American population's perspective, alongside journalist Ruben Navarette on social media platform MOSH.
Sanchez was born in Guanabacoa, Cuba, a township of Havana, and emigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of two. He grew up in Hialeah, Florida, a suburb of Miami, and attended Mae M. Walters Elementary School, Henry H. Filer Middle School, and Hialeah High School, graduating in 1977. Sanchez accepted a football scholarship to Minnesota State University Moorhead and transferred to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on a CBS/WCCO Journalism Scholarship in 1979.
Of his childhood Sanchez has said, "I grew up not speaking English, dealing with real prejudice every day as a kid; watching my dad work in a factory, wash dishes, drive a truck, get spit on. I've been told that I can't do certain things in life simply because I was a Hispanic." He prefers to be called Rick Sanchez rather than use his birth name because, as he said in a newscast in 2009, "...I want to be respectful of this wonderful country that allowed us as Hispanics to come here, and I think it's easier if someone's able to understand me by Anglicizing my name."
Sanchez and his wife, Suzanne, have three sons and one daughter: Ricky Jr.; Robby; Remmington; and Savannah.
On December 10, 1990, Sanchez, driving home, struck a man who jumped into the path of Sanchez's car. The man became paralyzed after being hit.
Sanchez was not charged with causing the accident. Police administered blood tests just over an hour after the accident, which showed that the victim had a blood alcohol level of .235%, more than twice the legal limit in Florida, while Sanchez's blood alcohol level was .15%, one and a half times the legal limit in Florida. Sanchez was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and pleaded No Contest.