UPPER MERION – Lisa Salters dream was not to be a sideline reporter for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Growing up in King of Prussia in the early eighties she aspired to be Action News anchor and reporter Lisa Thomas-Laury.
Salter’s local roots run deeper than her on-air idol. She still commutes to the area a few days a week so her parents can be with her son she adopted four years ago. Although you can’t tell from her unbiased sideline reports, Salters is a life-long Philadelphia Eagles fan.
On Friday night at the Valley Forge Casino Resort, a humbled Salters was honored in her hometown as a member of the Montgomery County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame during their 7th annual induction ceremony.
“I was a kid running around the fields and the track. It was a fun part of my childhood. I never thought that it would end up here,” said Salters. “It’s incredibly humbling to be considered good at what you do but to be considered Hall of Fame worthy means a lot.”
“She’s excited about this because she’s back home,” said her mother, Helen, who was by her side before the ceremony started along with her father, Glen. In her acceptance speech, Salters credited her father for teaching her about sports including showing her how to throw a curve ball.
“Dad, this is for you. We made it into the Hall of Fame.”
Salters scored 1,000 points in three years as a member of the Upper Merion basketball team. A journalism major at Penn State, she was a walk-on and at 5-foot-2, the shortest player in school history.
Earlier in her career, Salters served as a general assignment reporter for WBAL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Baltimore, where she covered national and international news, including the conflicts in the African countries of Rwanda and Somalia. Salters worked for ABC News from 1995-2000. Based in Los Angeles, she was named the first West Coast correspondent for the ABC affiliate news service, NewsOne, in February 1995. She covered the O.J. Simpson civil and criminal trials, the Oklahoma City bombing trials, the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and the crash of TWA flight 800, among other major stories for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and other ABC News outlets.
“I thought I reached the pinnacle,” said Salters of reaching the role of network correspondent at 28-years-old. “I thought sports were for fun. I didn’t think it was something you did for work.”
It didn’t cross her mind until ESPN began courting her for two years to join their network. Salters joined ESPN as a general assignment reporter in March 2000. She has covered the NBA since 2005 and was the sideline reporter for ABC’s Saturday Night Football college football games for five seasons (2006-10). An E:60 correspondent since the series launched in 2007, Salters earned both a Gracie Award from the Association for Women in Radio and Television for best feature in 2009 and a Sports Emmy nomination for the touching story “Ray of Hope” in 2008. She also traveled to Haiti for a powerful story on the U17 national women’s soccer team just months after the country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010.
Salters was named the sideline reporter for ESPN’s Monday Night Football in April 2012. She joins play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough and analyst Jon Gruden on the weekly MNF game telecasts and also provides live stadium reports during ESPN’s Monday afternoon studio shows.
“E:60, Monday Night Football, the NBA…they are all journalism that requires flexing a little bit of different muscle but I love them all,” said Salters.
When she told her father about her the MNF job, she said, “Dad, guess what I am doing next,” then hummed the unmistakable introduction of MNF, “Dun dun dun dahhh.”
She called it appointment television when she growing up and remembers watching her cousin, Dallas Cowboy running back Tony Dorsettt, on MNF when he had his 99-yard touchdown run in 1983.
“In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be the sideline reporter for Monday Night Football,” she said.
Salters called the football season a “runaway freight train.” She doesn’t have time to wallow in a (personal) bad game. She flies home on Tuesday. On Wednesday she receives a research packet on each team. Thursday is spent on conference calls and Friday she flies to the city to conduct interviews with the home team. On Sunday, she meets with visiting team and writes out scripts. Monday requires hours of pregame coverage along with the main event.
ESPN launched 24-hour sports coverage and journalists have been required to be active on social media, Salters recognizes another difference since her beginnings.
“The biggest change is a the blurred messy line that journalism has crossed over into entertainment. I’m a journalist so it’s just the facts. You will never know my opinion about anything,” said Salters. “Now the people in front of the camera are supposed to have opinions and charge people up. They are supposed to be controversial. I want nothing to do with it and stay in my own box as a journalist.”
Last week, Charlotte Observer reporter Jordan Rodrique asked a question to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton which he replied, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.” Newton apologized for his comment but was dropped by the yogurt manufacturer Dannon as a sponsor.
Salters says, as a woman, she doesn’t feel like she is treated differently. She has had interactions with Newtown and said he has been “nothing but great with me.”
“Other women before me paved the way. It’s not unusual to see a woman in the locker room.”
Salters will be on the sideline for the Eagles next game, a Monday nighter against the Redskins. She was excited last year when they started 3-1 and is more optimistic about the team this year.
“I thought (Carson) Wentz did well last season but it’s just how he leads and picks up the team,” said Salters. “(Nelson) Agholor is catching the ball which is great to see. It seems like they believe and it’s always fun when the Eagles are doing well. I grew up watching them so I will always be an Eagles fan.”
And, of course, a Lisa Thomas-Laury fan.