At the tender age of five years old, an abiding love of sports was sparked in Leslie Boghosian Murphy’s soul. Her mother Barbara, once voted most athletic in high school, was determined to demonstrate to her daughter that there was no reason why girls could not excel in sports. And so, in the backyard of the family home in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, she began teaching Leslie how to throw a basketball. “At first she had me shoot hoops in the net, and later we would practice together. It just rubbed off on me.”
Captivated by the challenge of competition from those early moments, the nature of sports has marked every stage of Boghosian Murphy’s life ever since, shaping her personal and professional growth as an athlete all throughout high school and college, and the focus of her career as an award-winning sports journalist today.
In her role as a television documentary sports reporter, Boghosian Murphy has traveled from Venezuela to Sri Lanka to bring viewers the often emotional and powerful stories of how sports has not only transformed the lives of athletes, but impacted entire communities in need. “Many of the stories I have covered involve people in situations that were either the greatest times of their lives, or the worst times. I was very invested in telling these extremely emotional stories and found that very rewarding.”
Over the course of her career reporting for HDNet, YES Sports Network, ESPN and CNN, she has also worked the sports beat, covering the New Jersey Nets in the NBA and the New York Giants in the NFL. Traveling with the players and attending practices day in and day out, she says she got to know on a more human level what drives some of the biggest names in professional sports.
For Boghosian Murphy, however, it is not the profiles of famous athletes of which she is proudest, but the tales of the underdogs who persevered in spite of the odds that resonate with her most. Among the numerous documentaries she has produced, the one that perhaps stands out the most in her mind featured the Harlem Little League team, a group of twelve-year-old baseball players who remarkably won the Mid-Atlantic Championship in 2002, earning for the very first time, a spot in the Little League World Series. Organizers initially refused to register some of the players who could not provide fixed addresses, because they lived in temporary homeless shelters at the time. Suddenly, the team from Harlem that had learned to play baseball on fields littered with broken glass and needles, found themselves on national television competing against the wealthiest teams from all over the world. “These kids had practically nothing,” she remembers. “But they were so genuine. Seeing them overcome so many obstacles was just really awesome.” Capturing their remarkable journey in raw and emotional terms earned Boghosian Murphy an Emmy Award, the highest recognition for sports journalism.
That determination to succeed, to seek solutions where none seemingly exist, is an attribute that Boghosian Murphy not only recognizes in the athletes she profiles, but one that has served her well throughout her own life, both on and off the field.
As a junior in college, having led her high school soccer team as co-captain and been chosen to play in the Garden States Games where the best athletes in each sport compete regionally, she was taken aback to discover Temple University did not even have a women’s soccer team at the time. She joined the women's lacrosse team while she and a friend took it upon themselves to launch Temple’s first women’s soccer team. They recruited players, hired a coach, and even scheduled travel and games with other college teams. “We got a lot of support on campus and from the administration which quickly realized the potential of women’s soccer as a Division 1 sport,” she adds. It was a bold move that undoubtedly made her parents extremely proud.
Her exceptional skills on the field landed Boghosian Murphy a Division 1 athletic scholarship that covered the majority of her college education. Being able to play soccer and lacrosse in college, she says, also provided her with a wealth of other tangible benefits. As a new arrival to a campus of thirty thousand strangers, the team created friendships, helping her acclimate to her new surroundings. “Being in a team setting with a bunch of other girls working together to achieve the same goal also reinforced a sense of discipline and a work ethic that has been very helpful to me in my career,” she says. “It takes you through life.”
Whether it was basketball, soccer or lacrosse, playing sports also instilled in her a sense of confidence that helped her navigate the hazards of being a woman in the male-dominated world of sports where female reporters have not always been given the same respect as their male colleagues. “I found being a woman actually helped me throughout my career as a documentary sports reporter. Men are less likely to open up and share personal stories with another guy, whereas I found if they trusted me, they would more readily open up to me in interviews and confide much more.”
Her vantage point as an in-depth sports reporter has provided her with a privileged understanding of the nature of professional sports where so few make the grade, and even fewer manage to sustain a career for more than a few years. She advises the younger generation considering a career in sports to maintain realistic expectations, stay grounded, and, if they do make the cut, to continue playing as long as physically possible, or risk regretting what could have been if they leave the sport they love too soon.
In her own career, Boghosian Murphy readily admits the success she has achieved stems not only from lessons learned on a sports field, but also from a strong foundation and invaluable network as part of the Armenian community and the AGBU, where her mother worked coordinating international relief efforts to Armenia in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake.
“It’s comforting that we have such a tight-knit community. Armenian organizations, such as AGBU, are imperative to preserving our culture and understanding of our rich background.”
Over the years, she says AGBU became part of her identity, and helped support her education by providing a scholarship while in college. “To receive a scholarship from AGBU wasn’t just money towards completing my education,” she says. “There is security in feeling that you have a whole group of people supporting you and wishing for your success.”
To this day, she remains actively involved in the community, regularly attending the same church she did as a child, St. Leon’s Armenian Church in Fair Lawn. The same church where she married her husband Paul Murphy, with whom she shares her passion for sports. A former captain of the Georgetown University lacrosse team, Paul is one of six lacrosse players to be inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame.
It’s comforting that we have such a tight-knit community. Armenian organizations, such as AGBU, are imperative to preserving our culture and understanding of our rich background.
After the birth of their daughter, her priorities and work schedule changed, although she continues to pursue her career as an independent sports journalist. Working more from home however, has afforded her the opportunity to teach her daughter the same values her mother instilled in her.
Every Sunday, she insists on driving her daughter to the same Sunday school she attended. “I want her to have the same benefits I had belonging to the community and I think it’s so important that she learns what it means to be Armenian.”
This past Christmas, as their daughter turned five, the couple decided it was time to pass on one more very special lesson, one that has been woven like a cherished thread across three generations. After consulting with Paul, the proud parents placed an unusually shaped present under the tree for their daughter: a lacrosse stick.
Banner photo by Adam Kane Macchia