The Thoughtful Voice Of Frank Deford

Frank Deford passed away on Sunday. He was 78. If you don’t know who he is, that’s a shame. But, here … let me get you up to speed.

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Deford was one of the great cerebral sportswriters. His opinions on sports were thoughtful and deep and could be read in Sports Illustrated and in his many books and heard on National Public Radio.

If you ever wanted to be a great sportswriter and great sportsthinker (which isn’t a word, but should be) … if you ever wanted to tear down the ugliness of professional sports to look for the goodness and meaning inside … Deford was one of those rare people you turned to.

One of my first posts on here was five years ago and was about Deford’s NPR piece on performance enhancing drugs in sport.  “If you doubt the bodies, there is no sport,” he said which was poetic and beautiful and in nine words conveyed more about the use of PEDs than other writers could say in 1,000.

One of his last commentaries for NPR was in March about the challenges that come when baseball tries to change the strike zone while umpires are left to have their own opinions about things.

You can find something from Deford to dig in to – on nearly any sport you choose – in Sports Illustrated’s Deford archives.

In his final commentary on NPR earlier this month, Deford said: “Nothing has pleased me so much as when someone — usually a woman — writes me or tells me that she’s appreciated sports more because NPR allowed me to treat sports seriously, as another branch on the tree of culture.”

OK, so maybe that was a little misguided and sexist, implying that women might not generally be thoughtful sports fans, but I’m going to give him a pass on this, considering it a generational misstep. But, I’m including it because … “another branch on the tree of culture” is, again, simply beautiful.

Deford would get a little too serious at times about sports, when I prefer sports, especially baseball, to have a bit of lightness … to be a needed distraction from the world at large. I wondered sometimes if he even found sports fun.

But, that seriousness was often necessary to shine a light on injustice, unfairness, or disharmony. Someone had to do it.

And, he did.

June 9, 2017 Update: The Deford story doesn’t end here.  Not after I discovered that Frank Deford once called sports bloggers “the pole dancers of sports journalism.” I took his curmudgeonly crack as a compliment. After all, there’s no such thing as bad press, right? So, I put it on my “About” page and I wrote about it here.

16 thoughts on “The Thoughtful Voice Of Frank Deford

  1. When I was a kid, I remember my father telling me that sports writers were often better writers than their counterparts. Frank Deford, and you, embody that belief.

  2. When you first mentioned his name, it rang familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was thinking sports writer or broadcaster. Then you mentioned NPR and it all came together. Thanks for bringing things together for me, as you always do.

  3. Thanks for your reflection. I loved Frank (and his colorful clothes) on HBO’s Real Sports. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend this beautiful segment about the relationship between Deford and Boomer Esiason, and both of their children’s battles with cystic fibrosis:

  4. Feels awkward to like an obituary or no it doesn’t. More like a tribute or a starter kit to those who didn’t know him. The lasting memory i have of Mr. Deford (the other ones from sports illustrated i can’t remember) is from a book of his. I have it on my shelf, but I’m not at home right now or else i’d list the title. What i do remember about it is the way he described John McGraw as being a rough, mean son of a bitch and Christy Mathewson as someone prone to loving milk or something to that effect and yet the two got along famously, as if they relied on each other..

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Yes, I think I have that same book — “The Old Ball Game.” Deford pretty much sums up McGraw and Mathewson, doesn’t he?

      And, I’m not surprised that Mathewson and McGraw were friends. I bet Mathewson got along with everybody … after all, he was one of the few who called Ty Cobb a pal.

  5. I didn’t always agree w what Frank had to say but you are right, a very cerebral sports writer. He would bring out sides or issues in a sports story that I wouldn’t know existed and then made it feel important to me. He was the best. Great post!

    • Several people said that same thing to me — “I didn’t always agree with what Frank had to say, but … ” Of course, when I was reading the appreciation in Sports Illustrated the next week I saw that he had called blogging the “pole dancing of sports journalism.” So, I had to respond. Although, to be fair it did make me laugh. Then it made me grumble and say, “Great, now I have to get in a debate with someone who just passed away.”

      He probably saw that post up in the ether and thought, “See, there she is writing about pole dancing. Proves my point about sports bloggers!” :)

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