Lesley Visser Broke All The Barriers
There are many women sportscasters you don’t know, but Lesley Visser is one that most of you do know. She’s the most highly acclaimed female sportscaster of all-time and a pioneer at the highest level. Her entire career has been defined by “firsts.”
It all started when Visser, born in Massachusetts in 1953, was little and she would dress up as the Celtics’ Sam Jones while other little girls dressed up as Cinderella. Visser knew she wanted to be a sportswriter early on, which was a male-dominated field. 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, and only 20 were awarded to women. She won and it entitled her to work as a sports writer for The Boston Globe. In 1976, she was assigned to cover the New England Patriots, becoming the first-ever female NFL beat writer.
“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.
“We’re not talking 1873, but it was like that. All the jobs were 95 percent white men.”
She faced a lot of sexism, but she trudged along with her head held high.
“I didn’t want to complain to anyone because I didn’t want anyone to say, ‘See, a woman can’t do this.”
She further told Gasper,
“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.”
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. She got a call that no other woman ever has. 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 brings her back to her beginnings with Jim McKay, who was the first recipient of this award and who she covered the Triple Crown with.
She has stated that she was wowed by this honor and the company that she will be in.
“It’s astonishing. I worked with half of them, and the other half I idolized. It’s very, very meaningful to be the first woman to win a Lifetime Achievement Emmy.”
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a statement,
“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.
McManus sums it up perfectly,
“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.