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.Embed from Getty Images
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.