Hall of fame broadcaster, sportswriter, and Derby alumna Lesley Visser ’68 has been steadily breaking down barriers as a pioneer in the male-dominated sports world.
With a career that spans over four decades, Visser holds a growing list of superlatives and “firsts,” including the first female NFL analyst on television, and the only sportscaster who has covered network broadcasts of the Final Four, the NBA Finals, the World Series, the Triple Crown, Monday Night Football, the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Figure Skating Championships, and the U.S. Open.
“I’ve had the privilege of covering the Home Run Derby, the Kentucky Derby, and roller derby,” said Visser as she spoke to guests in Larson Hall on October 11, “but my life was really shaped by being at this Derby. My family got to be here for what was really a central part of my own life.”
Visser remembered a defining moment when she turned to her mother and declared she wanted to become a sportswriter. “I had this dream that I wanted to cover sports, but I didn’t know if I could give voice to it,” Visser recalled. In an exclusively male profession, it was a goal that seemed unobtainable for the then-ten-year-old Derby student. But her mother, who taught at Derby, simply replied, “That’s great, sometimes you have to cross when it says, ‘don’t walk.’”
Her mother’s guidance gave her permission, Visser realized. What began was a journey that went against the notion that women were meant to watch from the sidelines, and instead vaulted Visser into sports broadcasting, covering the most highly regarded contests around the world and interviewing some of the most accomplished coaches and athletes.
In 2006, marking her 34th year covering the NFL as both a television reporter and print journalist, Visser received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, and became the first woman to be recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Visser, who was voted the number one female sportscaster of all-time in a poll taken by the American Sportscasters Association, was elected to the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association's Hall of Fame in 2015 as only the third woman to receive the honor since the association began presenting the award in 1962.
“My journey started here at Derby,” Visser said to students. “I was your age and I had a dream, but my dream did not exist. Whatever your dream is, don’t be afraid to want to do anything. I’m the example that you can do it. Derby is going to give you all the tools that you need.”