Lesley Visser’s career is one of firsts.
Among them, she was the first female NFL beat writer, first female NFL analyst on both radio and TV, the first woman on the broadcast team for the World Series, Final Four and NBA Finals, the first female sideline reporter at the Super Bowl and the first female sportscaster to carry the Olympic torch.
Last Tuesday, Visser added another first, becoming the first woman to receive the Sports Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award. While accepting the award in a virtual ceremony was unusual, Visser said receiving the Emmy was one of her finest moments.
“I would say that this one is there with being the first woman enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” she told USA TODAY Sports.
Lesley Visser was honored with the Sports Lifetime Achievement Emmy last week. (Photo: Courtesy: CBS Sports)
Visser said when she was a child, she told her mom she wanted to be a sportswriter. In the 1960s, a woman working in sports was almost unheard of, but her mother didn’t discourage her. Visser recalled her mother saying, “Sometimes, you have to cross when it says, ‘Don’t walk.’"
Following that advice, Visser got her start at the Boston Globe before switching to television, where her career has spanned more than three decades, including 29 years at CBS Sports. She still works there today, contributing to coverage of the NFL and college basketball.
In more than 40 years of working in sports journalism, Visser said she was never hired by a woman – because she was always the first.
Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, said Visser was "shocked" when he called in February to tell her about the award. But honoring Visser was not shocking to McManus.
“It’s in many ways the ultimate honor that a sports broadcaster can receive, and the fact that she is the first female to receive it is indicative of the standing in our industry and the reputation and the opinion that people have of her,” McManus said.
“It should’ve happened awhile ago, but I’m glad that it’s happening now, and I can’t think of anyone that’s more deserving to be the first female recipient than Lesley Visser is.”
In addition to her storytelling over the years, Visser fought for women to have equal access to sports locker rooms, and she paved the way for more female voices to follow her on the air. Visser said she believes in all of the female sports reporters who now appear on so many networks.
“I think we all, in some ways, are proud of each other," she said.
Her name now appears alongside those of other legendary sports broadcasters, including Jim McKay, Vin Scully, Jack Buck, John Madden and Al Michaels.
“(She) was not gonna be denied,” McManus said. “And I think her perseverance, coupled with her immense talents, resulted in her really blazing a path for all women who are now involved in this business.”
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