Journalist of the Month

On Sports Sideline, Visser Extends Her Long Run

Friday, February 2, 2007

U.S. sports fans who turn on the TV to watch the Super Bowl this weekend will see a familiar face on the sidelines. Lesley Visser carved out a role for women in sports journalism over 30 years and has made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Lesley Visser holds the Super Bowl trophy.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WOMENSENEWS)--When the Indianapolis Colts square off against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday, sports fans will see Lesley Visser, a 34-veteran of National Football League coverage, on the sidelines reporting for CBS Sports.

Visser will be turning her attention outward on Feb. 4, but if you ask her to look inward at her own groundbreaking career in sports journalism, she sums it up in two words: "fantastic ride."

Onlookers might think a single word sufficient: "first."

Visser in 1976 was the first female print sports journalist assigned to cover the National Football League beat for a major U.S. newspaper. In 1997 she was the first to appear on TV's "Monday Night Football" as a sideline reporter. In 2000 she was the first assigned to a Super Bowl sideline as an on-the-field reporter and the first female sportscaster to carry the Olympic torch in 2004, which she did in New York City.

Visser's role in promoting women in sports journalism helped her forge a groundbreaking path into the staunchest of male athletic bastions, the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Visser became the first woman inducted this past August when she received the prestigious Pete Rozelle Radio and Television Award, which recognizes "longtime exceptional contributions" in football coverage. She joins the ranks of sportscasters such as Van Miller, Frank Gifford, Pat Summerall and John Madden.

"It was staggering, humbling," Visser says. "You can't buy your way in or be born into the Hall of Fame, you have to earn it."

Ambitions Started Early

Visser's career ambitions began early.

"Being a sports writer was the only thing I ever wanted to do since I was 11 years old," the 52-year-old journalist says. "And while there were difficulties along the way my memories now are only happy ones."

As a girl in Quincy, Mass., Visser idolized legendary Boston Celtic's player John "Hondo" Havlicek and the Boston Red Sox's Carl "Yaz" Yastrzemski. She read Sports Illustrated every chance she got.

"While other girls were dressing up as Mary Poppins for Halloween, I had to be dressed as Celtics guard Sam Jones," she remembers with a laugh.

Visser's parents backed her up, supporting her career goals even though there were no female sports writers at the time.

"My mother must have been shaken but she told me, 'Sometimes you have to cross even when the sign says don't cross,' and so I did."

Visser began her career in 1974. The 19-year-old college graduate got a job as a sports reporter at the Boston Globe covering high school football before being assigned to cover the New England Patriots two years later.

Access to players and team practices in the 1970s was extremely limited for female reporters and Visser often waited in the parking lot to interview players.

In one memorable incident, then-Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Bradshaw spotted Visser, grabbed her notebook, and gave her an autograph before realizing she was a reporter; the story has become a well-worn anecdote over the years.

"There was no ladies' room in the press box, no women allowed in locker rooms, no comfort zone whatsoever," Visser recalls.

At the 1980 Cotton Bowl game University of Houston coach Bill Yeomans marched her out of the locker room yelling about his disdain for female reporters: "I don't give a damn about the Equal Rights Amendment. Get ouuuut!"

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