Ex­cel­lence was judged by the stan­dard he set

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS -

Frank Deford, the award-win­ning sports writer and com­men­ta­tor whose el­e­gant re­portage was a sta­ple for years at Sports Il­lus­trated and Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio, has died. He was 78. He died Sun­day in Key West, Fla. Deford was a six-time Sports Writer of the Year and a mem­ber of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Sportscast­ers and Sportswrit­ers Hall of Fame. He wrote and spoke with a lyri­cal touch and this month re­tired from NPR’s “Morn­ing Edi­tion” af­ter 37 years as a con­trib­u­tor.

“Frank was deal­ing with an au­di­ence that doesn’t turn to the sports pages first thing,” said Tom Gold­man, an NPR sports cor­re­spon­dent who re­cently spent time with Deford in Key West. “And he was proud­est of the many com­ments he got over the years from peo­ple say­ing, ‘I don’t re­ally like sports, but I like what you did, and you made me more in­ter­ested in it.’”

He was the first sports writer awarded the Na­tional Hu­man­i­ties Medal. In 2013, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama hon­oured him for “trans­form­ing how we think about sports.”

His long pro­files, cov­er­ing all cor­ners of sports, were for years a show­case in Sports Il­lus­trated.

“He could watch the grit­ti­est game and zoom in on the mo­ment that made it im­por­tant,” said Jim Litke, a na­tional sports colum­nist for The As­so­ci­ated Press. “No­body was bet­ter at con­nect­ing sports to the culture at large. He dressed up ev­ery event he at­tended.”

Among Deford’s books were “Heart of a Cham­pion,” which chron­i­cles the ca­reer of ath­letes who ap­peared on Wheaties boxes, and a bi­og­ra­phy of ten­nis great Bill Tilden. His wit al­ways was on dis­play. Among Deford’s gems: “I be­lieve that pro­fes­sional wrestling is clean and ev­ery­thing else in the world is fixed.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Frank Deford, edi­tor and pub­lisher of The Na­tional Sports Daily, holds a proof of the fi­nal front page of the news­pa­per on June 12, 1991.

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