5 Questions For Broadcasting Legend Lesley Visser
There are many female sportscasters who many people may not know, but Lesley Visser is most likely not in that category. Visser is one of the most highly acclaimed female sportscaster of all-time, and a pioneer at the highest level. Her entire career has been defined by “firsts.”
Born in Massachusetts in 1953, Visser would dress up as the Celtics’ Sam Jones while other little girls dressed up as Cinderella. She knew she wanted to be a sports writer early on, even though it was a male-dominated field. As a student at Boston College, she worked for The Heights, the student newspaper, where she got her first big break as a writer.
Visser always had writing prowess. In 1974, she applied for a Carnegie Foundation Grant. She won one of 20 grants that were awarded to women, and received the opportunity to work as a sports writer for The Boston Globe. In 1976, she became the first-ever female NFL beat writer when she was assigned to cover the New England Patriots.
“You really don’t have to worry about her too much. When she tells her story I know she’s going to have her facts straight, she’s going to have her story straight. She’s so prepared, she’s so honest about what she does and so fair about what she’s reporting,” said Suzanne Smith, CBS Sports director and producer, who worked with Visser.
Visser is extraordinary because she had to work hard at doing something she was passionate about just because she was a woman. All the jobs in sports were made up of 95 percent white men. She faced a lot of sexism, but didn’t want to complain to anyone because she didn’t want anyone to say that a woman wasn’t capable of doing her job.
She recapped the sexism she faced in an interview with Chris Gasper for WBUR.
“Right on the credential that I wore, it said, ‘No women or children in the press box,’ which was pretty diminishing. And also they had no ladies’ rooms. You know that scene in the movie Hidden Figures where Kevin Costner says to her, ‘Where do you go every day?’; And she says, ‘I go to the bathroom.’ Well, that was kind of my life because there were no ladies’ rooms because there were no other ladies.”
The “firsts” in Visser’s career continued to skyrocket. In 1984, she started her television career at CBS Sports. She covered the NBA, college basketball, MLB, college football, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the Winter Olympics, and she was a regular on The NFL Today. In 1989, she covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and how it would affect sports in East Germany. In 1990, Visser became the first woman on a World Series broadcast. In 1992, Visser became the first and only woman to present the Lombardi Trophy at the Super Bowl.
CBS lost its NFL rights in 1993, and Visser moved on to ABC and ESPN. She became the first woman ever to report from the sidelines during a Super Bowl.
While she was at CBS, she covered the NFL Playoffs, horse racing including the Triple Crown, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Major League Baseball, including the 1995 World Series, figure skating, Special Olympics, and the Pro Bowl.
She rejoined CBS Sports in 2000 and has remained there since — 30 years and counting. During that time, more firsts followed. In 2004, she became the first female color analyst in an NFL broadcast booth. In 2004, she became the first female to carry the Olympic Torch. In 2010, she became the first female sideline reporter in a Super Bowl.
With a storied career like Visser’s, countless honors are in order, and she’s been given many throughout the years, including the Emily Couric Leadership Award in 2007, which was previously given to Sandra Day O’Connor, Caroline Kennedy, and Donna Brazile.
The biggest honor of her lifetime came in 2020 when she received a call that no other woman has yet. She was going to be the first female recipient of a Sports Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sports Emmy Awards. This award puts the cherry on top of an incredible career, and said she is honored by the company she’s in with fellow recipients like Jim McKay, who covered the Triple Crown with Visser.
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus released a statement that sums up Visser’s career perfectly.
“For 45 years Lesley Visser has been a leader and trailblazer in both print and television journalism. Very few people have had the word first attached to them throughout their career as much as Lesley, and even fewer have created a place in an industry that never existed.There is no one more deserving to be honored as the first woman to receive the Sports Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement.”
Bravo to you, Lesley! You’re truly someone that young girls and women can look up to.
Photo credit: Photos courtesy of Lesley Visser