Lesley Visser

Lesley Visser

VERMILLION — A female pioneer in sports journalism will receive an award Monday on the University of South Dakota campus.

Veteran sportscaster Lesley Visser was selected for the 2018 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media. She became the 32nd journalist and the first female sportscaster to receive the award, first given to CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite in 1989.

Visser, who currently works for CBS Sports, will be honored during the 6-7 p.m. program in the Freedom Forum conference room of the Al Neuharth Media Center in Vermillion. The event is open to the public, but seating is limited.

Visser has broken many barriers during a career that has spanned more than four decades. She became the second sports broadcaster to receive the Neuharth Award. ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman won the 2016 honor.

"I am both humbled and honored to receive this prestigious award," Visser said in a news release, "an award that stretches back to our greatest CBS employee, Walter Cronkite."

The honor is named after Allen H. Neuharth, a 1950 USD graduate and founder of USA Today, the Freedom Forumand the Newseum. The award is presented by USD and the Freedom Forum Institute, a non-partisan foundation championing the First Amendment.

Monday’s awards program will feature a conversation between Visser and Gene Policinski, president and chief operating officer of the Freedom Forum Institute.

"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," Policinski said in a news release.

"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."

Visser’s career contains a litany of "firsts." She has become a familiar and renowned presence for viewers through the years, particularly covering high-profile events. However, she has also broken a number of glass ceilings.

Visser started her career covering sports for the Boston Globe in 1974. Two years later, she became the first female beat writer, covering the New England Patriots.

In 1992, she became the first and only female to handle the Super Bowl trophy presentation. She is also the only sportscaster in history — male or female — to work on network broadcasts of the Final Four, World Series, NBA Finals, Super Bowl, Olympics, Triple Crown, World Figure Skating Championship and U.S. Open.

Visser is currently the only woman enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. She was awarded the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2006 for "long-time exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football."

That same year, she was the first female sportscaster to receive the Gracie Award from the American Woman in Radio and Television, Inc. The award celebrates programming created for women, by women and about women, as well as individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the industry.

In 2008, she was honored as the first and only woman with a Billie Jean King Award for Outstanding Journalists. In 2009, she was voted the No. 1 female sportscaster of all time by the American Sportscasters Association.

She has been voted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Sports Writers Hall of Fame. She was the first woman assigned to Monday Night Football and the Super Bowl sideline.

She is the first female sportscaster to carry the Olympic Torch, the first woman honored as a Lombardi Fellow, and the first female National Football League analyst on both radio (Westwood One Monday Night Football in 2002) and television (Miami Dolphins in 2009).

In addition, she was named a Muhammad Ali "Daughter of Greatness." She was also named one of the Ten Pioneers of Women’s Sports by USA Today and one of the 100 Luminaries in the History of CBS.

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 National Basketball Association (NBA) star Yao Ming in 2001.

She has also served on the board of the V Foundation for Cancer Research for more than 20 years.

Visser’s upcoming appearance at USD forms part of a daylong celebration.

Besides Monday evening’s awards presentation, Visser and Policinski will participate in a news conference from 2-2:30 p.m. in the Freedom Forum conference room.

In addition to the Neuharth Award, the Freedom Forum Institute is promoting a "town hall" meeting Monday morning on the topic "The Future of the Free Press and Speech." The town hall meeting will be held from 11-11:50 a.m. at the Freedom Forum conference room. The event is open to the public, but seating is limited.

Policinski will moderate the discussion with professors and students. The town hall will be livestreamed by USD student media. The event is promoted by the Freedom Forum Institute and co-sponsored by the USD departments of media and journalism, history and political science.

Visser formally received the Neuharth award during last June’s ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The award was presented at an evening dinner during the weeklong Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.

The annual symposium at the Newseum 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.

USD President Sheila Gestring said Visser’s appearance on campus represents a tremendous opportunity, along with a historic example.

"We are very excited to host Lesley Visser at USD and present her with this prestigious award inspired by one of our very own," Gestring said.

"Her outstanding achievements, not only in broadcast but in breaking barriers and stereotypes, are a true inspiration to all."

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