Excellence was judged by the standard he set
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.”
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.