Award-winning sports writer and commentator Frank Deford has died. He was 78.
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 with a lyrical elegance and was best known for his work at Sports Illustrated and on National Public Radio. He retired this month from NPR’s “Morning Edition” after 37 years – and more than 1,600 commentaries – as a contributor.
Deford spent more than 50 years with SI, joining the magazine’s staff in 1962. He would remain as a contributing writer with the publication until earlier this month.
An illustrious writer, Deford penned 17 books, was a contributor to HBO’s Real Sports, and served at editor-in-chief of The National, the short-lived all-sports daily, from 1990-1991.
Deford working at the Time Life Building, New York, 1973. Lane Stewart, Sports Illustrated
President Barack Obama awarded Deford the National Humanities Medal in 2013, calling him, “A dedicated writer and storyteller.”
“Mr. Deford has offered a consistent, compelling voice in print and on radio,” said Obama, “reaching beyond scores and statistics to reveal the humanity woven into the games we love.”
Deford in a 2008 interview with Deadspin discussed his decades in the journalism business: “For my taste, I liked it better the way that it was. But I’m afraid the public is fonder of it the way it is now.”
He also served as the national chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation following the death of his first daughter to the disease.
Considered by many the greatest sports writer in America, Deford leaves behind a litany of iconic pieces, none perhaps more so ingrained in the ethos of sports journalism than his story of boxer Billy Conn from 1985. His 1981 profile of former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight remains the marker by which all sports profiles are measured.
“Frank Deford was the best sportswriter who ever lived and made SI what it is,” said SI Senior Editor Ted Keith on Twitter. “We all owe him a debt.”