Veteran sports broadcaster Lesley Visser was awarded the 2018 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media, on Monday, June 18, at a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Visser is the only woman to be recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as the 2006 recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for “long-time exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.” In 2009, she was voted the number-one female sportscaster of all time by the American Sportscasters Association.
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The Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media is named for the late USA TODAY, Freedom Forum and Newseum founder, Al Neuharth, and is sponsored by the Freedom Forum, Freedom Forum Institute and the University of South Dakota. Neuharth, a South Dakota native, graduated in 1950 from USD, which is now home to the Al Neuharth Media Center.
“I am both humbled and honored to receive this prestigious award,” said Visser, “an award that stretches back to our greatest CBS employee, Walter Cronkite.”
Visser is the 32nd person to receive the Award for Excellence, which honors lifetime achievement in the media industry. Cronkite was the first honoree, in 1989. Visser also is the second sports broadcaster to receive the Neuharth award. In 2016, it was presented to ESPN’s Chris Berman.
“We are delighted to present Lesley Visser with this award, which recognizes her outstanding career in reporting on sports, and her trailblazing achievements in reaching the top ranks of a segment of journalism virtually closed to women as she started her career,” said Gene Policinski, president and chief operating officer of the Freedom Forum Institute. “Her recent book, ‘Sometimes You Have to Cross When It Says Don’t Walk,’ is both a journey through her career highlights and an inspirational message on how to overcome the stereotypical hurdles that women still face in many careers.”
The award was presented at an evening dinner during the weeklong Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, an annual symposium at the Newseum that brings together 51 of the nation’s top high school students with an interest in journalism. The conference, designed to inspire and encourage students to pursue journalism as a career, began in 1999 and is funded by the Freedom Forum and Freedom Forum Institute.
“Lesley Visser is an outstanding choice for the Al Neuharth Award, and we look forward to hosting her on the USD campus. Our students will be inspired by the way Lesley blazed a trail for women in sports journalism,” said University of South Dakota President James Abbott.
Visser began her career in sports journalism in 1974 as a member of the Boston Globe sports staff, on a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. Two years later she was assigned to cover the New England Patriots, becoming the first-ever female NFL beat writer. She is the only sportscaster in history who has worked on the network broadcasts of the Final Four, Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Triple Crown, Olympics, U.S. Open and World Figure Skating Championship. She also remains the only woman to have handled the Super Bowl trophy presentation, done for CBS in 1992.
Visser was honored with a Billie Jean King Award, the only Billie awarded for Outstanding Journalist, in 2008. She also was honored by the American Women in Radio and Television, Inc., in June 2006, as the first woman sportscaster recipient of a Gracie Award, which celebrates programming created for women, by women and about women, as well as individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the industry.
Visser also has contributed reports for CBS News, HBO Sports and ABC Sports, where she was the first woman to be a sideline reporter for “Monday Night Football” and to report from the sidelines during a Super Bowl. Her assignments have ranged from covering the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the first network interview with soon-to-be NBA star Yao Ming in 2001. She was also the first woman sportscaster to carry the Olympic Torch.