Lesley Visser, a celebrated sports reporter with more than 40 years in the game, has been involved in historic moments. She was the first woman to present the Lombardi Trophy and the first woman to raise the torch in the Olympics. Visser’s accomplishments are what people identify with, however, her career started in journalism during the 1960s.
“Some of the younger women at that time could not own a credit card or have real estate without either a signature from a husband or the backing of a family member,” she said.
Her dream to enter the journalism field started when she was 10.
“I said, I want to be a sports writer, which of course, didn’t exist for women. And my mother, instead of saying, ‘You can’t really do that. Girls don’t do that. You have to be a teacher, nurse, domestic, housekeeper, secretary,’ all of them honorable jobs, but she didn’t say that you can’t do that. She said to me, ‘That’s great. Sometimes you have to cross when it says don’t walk.’’’
Visser spoke about the privilege and joy of growing up in Boston.
“Boston is interested in three things: politics, sports, and talking about politics and sports.”
Sports influenced her career, from the times her older brother Chris would go to Fenway Park to living during the decade reign of the Boston Celtics where they didn’t lose the NBA championship until she was in high school.
Visser attended Boston College during the early 1970s via a Carnegie Foundation grant. It was awarded to 20 women in America who wanted to go into fields that were 95 percent composed of men.
At the age of 19, Visser began her career with the Boston Globe and faced a number of challenges.
For one, there weren’t any bathrooms for women in the press box.
“If the Patriots have the ball first and ten on their own 20 yard line, I’d have to take the press elevator down to the field, run across to the one public restroom, sprint back like I was Usain Bolt, and try to get up to the press box before they punted, which, because they weren’t very good, was usually three downs.”
After her job at the Boston Globe she transitioned to CBS. Visser explained how her passion helped her overcome a hurdle during her time at CBS.
“After a game, I think it was a regional semifinal, Bob Knight, he was just tough. He was a bully. And so I said, ‘How are you able to come back toward the end of the game?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘We scored more points, that’s something that you guys in the media apparently don’t know.’’’
Some people would’ve walked away from the situation or not responded, but Visser didn’t.
“I really got it together. And I just looked at him and I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.”’
Visser said her reaction got her a standing ovation in the press room, and in the end she recollects how he wrote a book, and she was one of the two women he respected because of what she did.
Apart from overcoming her worst moments, she also spoke about her favorite moments and interviews. Michael Jordan and Billie Jean King made her bucket list, but there was one interview that made her really nervous.
“The one time I was incredibly nervous was when I had the privilege to meet Nelson Mandela, and I just had flop sweat. Is that what you call it? But he had an aura about him and was incredibly generous.”
Visser wrapped by offering advice for young journalists.
“I think you need three things,” she said. “You need passion, and I think you need knowledge. Knowledge is unassailable. It gives you confidence to have knowledge. And the third is stamina, because the ferris wheel goes up, but for most of us, the ferris wheel comes down. So you really have to hang in there, because they’re going to be speed bumps.”
Visser had specific advice for young women.
“It’s something [Nora] Ephron said, who was a great writer, and Nora said that which doesn’t kill you, makes you funnier.”