Lisa Salters is a television sportscaster who covers a range of topics as a general assignment reporter for the cable-television channel ESPN. She began her career in broadcast journalism as a network news correspondent, which made her an ideal choice for a position on E:60, an investigative-journalism program that debuted on ESPN in the fall of 2007. Salters also reports from the sideline during broadcasts of college football and professional basketball games, and she conducts hours of pregame research in order to prepare to interview players. "I find that the more personable you are with them, the more they open up to you," she told Melody K. Hoffman in Jet about interviewing athletes. "You try to find out who they are as human beings."
Salters was raised in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and graduated from Upper Merion Area High School. At Pennsylvania State University, she studied broadcast journalism and briefly played college basketball despite her relatively diminutive stature at five feet, two inches. She earned a spot on Penn State's Lady Lions after appearing at an open tryout, and played during the 1986-87 season as a guard. Twenty years later, she still held the distinction of being the shortest player in the history of Penn State basketball. "People ask me if I get nervous before going on the air," she said in an interview with Matt Herb on the Penn State athletics Web site FightOn-State.com. "I tell them there's nothing that frightens me more than having to run. As long as no one is saying, ‘Ladies, line up,’ I'm happy. To me, that was hard work. Basketball was hard work. What I do now, watching people work out and not having to do it with them, is perfect."
After graduating in 1988, Salters was hired by WBAL-TV in Baltimore as a general assignment reporter. She covered local news before moving on to international stories, traveling as far as Rwanda and Somalia to report on human-rights stories there. In February of 1995, Salters joined NewsOne, the affiliate news service for the ABC network, as a West Coast correspondent. Two years later she moved to ABC News as Los Angeles bureau correspondent. In both roles she reported on major stories of the day, including the O. J. Simpson trial in California, the crash of TWA Flight 800 in the Atlantic Ocean in July of 1996, the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Salters surprised many of her colleagues when she left ABC News for ESPN in March of 2000. "When you're at a network, there's kind of an elitist attitude," she told Herb. "They think, ‘We're it, this is network TV, the top of the heap.’" Both ESPN and ABC, however, share a corporate parent—the Walt Disney Company and the Hearst Corporation, which have joint ownership—and Salters's move to general assignment reporter at the all-sports channel seemed to coincide with its push to bring a more news-oriented slant to its programming lineup.
At ESPN Salters became a regular contributor to Outside the Lines, a newsmagazine program. One of her more sensational assignments for it was the 2000-01 murder-conspiracy trial of Rae Carruth, a Carolina Panthers player who was sent to prison for his role in the death of his pregnant girlfriend. In early 2003, just before the start of the Iraq War, Salters and an ESPN camera crew traveled to the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar for a special Outside the Lines assignment. Her interview subjects included U.S. military personnel who had some professional, collegiate, or Olympic athletic experience. She and the crew also spent time on board a pair of U.S. Navy carriers in the Persian Gulf. Many of the servicemen and servicewomen they encountered would ask about their home teams or other sports news. She told Chuck Finder in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "What I found is just how pervasive sports is in our society. To hear how their team is doing, they were thrilled. It was something to take their mind off what they were doing during war."
Salters covered both the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and also served as the primary sideline reporter for ABC's coverage of National Basketball Association (NBA) games and for the Saturday night college football games broadcast as ESPN's College Football Saturday Primetime. In both roles her task was to interview players, coaching personnel, and sometimes even the celebrities who have courtside seats for their favorite NBA teams. As she explained to Hoffman inJet, "the announcers really have to be looking right at the game the entire time. We are looking at people's reactions; we are looking at the bench to see somebody getting chewed out by the coach. We literally are the eyes and the ears for the viewer." She also admitted to being occasionally surprised, as she told Mary Schmitt Boyer in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, such as the time when she asked Ed Snider, owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, if its star player Allen Iverson had asked to be traded. Snider, she said, "let it all hang out…. I thought to myself, ‘Wow.’ I really had to regroup, because I'd been prepared for him not to answer."
In October of 2007 ESPN premiered E:60, a new program that showcased investigative journalism by Salters, Jeremy Schaap, Rachel Nichols, Tom Farrey, and Michael Smith. Salters's debut story involved the legacy of Jason Ray, who wore the horned-sheep mascot costume for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels teams. Ray was struck by a car on a highway during the National Collegiate Athletic Association's men's basketball tournament in March of 2007, and his organs were donated to four people. Critiquing E:60 in the New York Times, Richard Sandomir called her segment "the gem, a moving and original report" in which "Salters extended the story to the people who received Ray's heart, lungs, liver and pancreas. This example of intelligent journalism ended with a meeting between Ray's parents and some of those who received their son's organs."
At a Glance …
Born Alisia Salters, c. 1966, daughter of Glen and Helen Salters. Education: Pennsylvania State University, BA, communications, 1988.
Career: WBAL-TV, Baltimore, MD, general assignment reporter, 1988-95; NewsOne (ABC affiliate news service), West Coast correspondent, 1995-97; ABC News, Los Angeles bureau correspondent, 1997-2000; ESPN/ESPN on ABC, general assignment reporter, 2000—, and correspondent on the newsmagazine program E:60 after 2007.
Memberships: Association for Women in Sports Media, National Association of Black Journalists.
Awards: Alumni Fellow Award, Penn State Alumni Association, 2007.
Addresses: Office—ESPN, ESPN Plaza, Bristol, CT 06010.
Jet, May 26, 2008, p. 53.
New York Times, October 18, 2007, p. D5.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), January 29, 2007, p. C4.
Finder, Chuck, "The Big Picture: Ex-Penn Stater Gets War Story for ESPN," PittsburghPost-Gazette.com, April 3, 2003, http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/columnists/20030403thebig6.asp (accessed August 12, 2008).
Herb, Matt, "PSU Grad Shines at ESPN," FightOn-State.com, March 20, 2005, http://pennstate.scout.com/2/361617.html (accessed August 12, 2008).