A Hall of Fame Career for CBS's Lesley Visser

An NFL Honor for a Pioneering Woman in Sports Media

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- CBS Sports broadcaster Lesley Visser's career has been filled with so many "firsts" that she doesn't know what it's like to be second.
Lesley Visser is the 2006 recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award -- the first for a woman.
Lesley Visser is the 2006 recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award -- the first for a woman. Credit: CBS

She was the first female beat writer to cover the National Football League when she worked for the Boston Globe in 1976. She was the first woman ever to report from the sidelines of an NFL game when she joined CBS in 1984, and in 1992 became the first woman ever to handle the postgame trophy presentation at the Super Bowl.

Now comes even more recognition of a stellar career. Ms. Visser is the 2006 recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. The award, given annually by the Hall of Fame, recognizes "long-time exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football." This season will mark her 34th year covering the NFL as both a television reporter and print journalist. Ms. Visser was the first woman to be recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame during the induction ceremonies in Canton, Ohio, last weekend.

Ms. Visser was on a teleconference on last week to talk about her career.

MediaWorks: How has media coverage for women changed over the course of your career?

Ms. Visser: When I started...it was the time of Watergate and it was the time of opportunities for women. I do think we were really authentic. I mean, my scenario was that I had knowledge. I had passion. And it meant opportunity.

MediaWorks: Can you share any stories about the lack of access or the difficulties of being a female pioneer in sports coverage?

Ms. Visser: In 1976 I was in Three Rivers Stadium as the only woman covering the NFL. Here I am at Three Rivers representing the Boston Globe, and we are in the parking lot -- there wasn't equal access at the time. This is the mid-'70s, and finally [Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback] Terry Bradshaw comes out and I am there with my reporter's pen and pad, and I go to ask Terry a question, and he signed an autograph and ran away! I had to go and say "Wait a minute, I'm a reporter." Of course, now Terry is one of my very good friends and he says, "Come on, my autograph is now worth more than whatever you were going to write in the Boston Globe."

I think I was an honorable pioneer. I have a sense of humor about myself. I tease [fellow Boston Globe writer] Jackie MacMullan to this day about what I got for us. This may seem small, but there were no ladies' rooms. I got us ladies' rooms!

MediaWorks: Who is your favorite all-time interview?

Ms. Visser: I have to say, and he was my favorite player, too [former New York Giants linebacker] Lawrence Taylor. One time I said to him, "LT, what is the deal with you?" [Mr. Taylor was a notorious cocaine abuser who was suspended twice by the NFL.] And he said, "You know what my problem is? My drug dealer lives five minutes away and he takes American Express." Pretty powerful, huh?

The only two times I was ever nervous [doing an interview] was [former Boston Red Sox great] Ted Williams -- I mean, c'mon, I'm a fanatic Red Sox Fan -- but I was also nervous to interview Michael Jordan. Both of them.

MediaWorks: What is the next frontier for women sportscasters? What do they need to achieve and where do you want to see them go?

Ms. Visser: I do think that it is funny that it took 30 years for a woman to be on Monday Night Football but now it's been all women since. Women now have the opportunity to do whatever they want to do. I've had many, many firsts. I've covered the NFL for television and print. I've been an NFL analyst. Girls can grow up and say, "I want to be a Supreme Court Justice. I want to call play-by-play on the Super Bowl. I want to cover a Super Bowl. I want to be the president of CBS Sports." I really do think that they can do whatever they want to do.

MediaWorks: Any other women you think are really good?

Ms. Visser: I am a mentor for all of them, but I love [Fox sideline reporter] Pam Oliver and [ESPN's] Suzy Kolber. I have incredible respect for [ESPN sideline reporter] Michelle Tafoya. All that I ask is that they are authentic. I don't think in 2006 that is too much to ask.

MediaWorks: Do sideline reporters still have a place on NFL broadcasts?

Ms. Visser: I think it has a place. But when I did it, I understood that it was supplemental. It wasn't supposed to dominate the broadcast. I never confused myself with Phil Simms or Dan Dierdorf or Boomer Esiason. I know I am a good observer. I know I am a good reporter. I know how to put things into words and I do believe that's why I lasted three decades when many, many women have come and gone.
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