Lesley Visser never saw it coming. On June 23, 1993, Visser was running in Central Park when she tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. Her left knee hit the pavement so hard that it drove her hip out of the socket, shattering her pelvis. She also fell on her face and suffered wounds requiring 25 stitches to close. Visser, who was an NFL sideline reporter for ABC, was sidelined for 10 weeks. "That was my biggest previous trauma," says Visser, "but this was a body blow."
The this she refers to was a phone call she received almost seven years to the day after her freak injury. It was a morning after the Yankees had beaten her beloved Red Sox, and the call was from ABC senior vice president John Filippelli. "This isn't about Andy Pettitte, is it?" she asked in mock annoyance.
"I wish it were," he replied.
You know the rest. After two years as a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football, Visser was sacked. MNF executive producer Don Ohlmeyer, who has carte blanche for on-air personnel decisions, fired her, saying only that he "wanted to go in another direction." Again, she never saw the blow coming.
"It was surreal," says Visser, who last week was rehired by CBS Sports, where she had begun her TV career in 1984 after 10 years with The Boston Globe, to cover, among other things, the NFL. "My husband [Fox NFL broadcaster Dick Stockton] took the newspaper on the morning after the announcement and hid it in the piano bench."
Visser, 46, was replaced as MNF's sideline reporter by former ESPN correspondent Melissa Stark, who is 26. ( Eric Dickerson was also hired by MNF as a sideline reporter.) During the June 22 conference call to announce the revised MNF lineup, a newspaper writer asked Ohlmeyer and ABC Sports president Howard Katz if the Stark-for-Visser swap was age discrimination. Before either could answer, new color analyst Dennis Miller asked the reporter, "Do you have something against 26-year-olds?"
Visser speaks with equanimity for the most part, saying, "It was Don Ohlmeyer's party, and I wasn't invited." Then again, she notes, "People are excited about Dennis Miller being young and hip, but the truth is that he and I are the same age."
The bigger irony is that CBS has the rights to the upcoming Super Bowl. Thus Visser, who worked Super Bowl XXXIV for ABC last January, will be on the sidelines in Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV. "Who else in the NFL in August," she asks, "can guarantee that they're returning for that game?"