Frank Deford

Writer and commentator Frank Deford is the author of sixteen books. His latest novel, Bliss, Remembered, is a love story set at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and in World War II. Publishers Weekly calls it a "thought-provoking...and poignant story, utterly charming and enjoyable." Booklist says Bliss, Remembered is "beautifully written...elegantly constructed...writing that is genuinely inspiring."

On radio, Deford may be heard as a commentator every Wednesday on NPR's Morning Edition and, on television, he is the senior correspondent on the HBO show RealSports With Bryant Gumbel. In magazines, he is Senior Contributing Writer at Sports Illustrated.

Moreover, two of Deford's books — the novel Everybody's All-American and Alex: The Life Of A Child, his memoir about his daughter who died of cystic fibrosis — have been made into movies. Two of his original screenplays, Trading Hearts and Four Minutes, have also been filmed.

As a journalist, Deford has been elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters. Six times Deford was voted by his peers as U.S. Sportswriter of The Year. The American Journalism Review has likewise cited him as the nation's finest sportswriter, and twice he was voted Magazine Writer of The Year by the Washington Journalism Review.

Deford has also been presented with the National Magazine Award for profiles, a Christopher Award, and journalism Honor Awards from the University of Missouri and Northeastern University, and he has received many honorary degrees. The Sporting News has described Deford as "the most influential sports voice among members of the print media," and the magazine GQ has called him, simply, "the world's greatest sportswriter."

In broadcast, Deford has won both an Emmy and a George Foster Peabody Award. ESPN presented a television biography of Deford's life and work, "You Write Better Than You Play." A popular lecturer, Deford has spoken at more than a hundred colleges, as well as at forums, conventions and on cruise ships around the world.

For sixteen years, Deford served as national chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and he remains chairman emeritus. Deford is a graduate of Princeton University, where he has taught in American Studies.

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Sweetness And Light
2:24 am
Wed September 5, 2012

Southern Pride And The Southeastern Conference

Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin speaks to reporters at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media day.
Butch Dill AP

Originally published on Thu July 11, 2013 4:09 pm

Well, the Southeastern Conference season has begun. I have it on good authority that other college football teams around the country will also be playing games this fall.

I don't know when exactly the SEC took over America. I know this is hard to believe, but the epicenter of college football used to be in the Midwest. I'm so old, I can remember when Notre Dame actually mattered, and the real tough players were supposed to come from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.

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Sweetness And Light
3:19 am
Wed August 29, 2012

Just Say No: Doping Diminishes All Athletes

San Francisco Giants' Melky Cabrera fouls off a pitch. Cabrera was suspended Aug 15 for 50 games without pay after testing positive for high levels of testosterone.
Ben Margot AP

Originally published on Thu August 30, 2012 8:23 am

Certain forms of art are performed in private. The painter is alone when he paints, the writer likewise.

But the most pertinent aspect of the performing arts is that they are watched. Dance, music, drama and sport are most challenging — and most thrilling — precisely because they are real, before our eyes.

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Sweetness And Light
10:09 pm
Tue August 21, 2012

Serena Williams Takes Tennis For A Ride

Serena Williams returns a shot during a match at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament in Mason, Ohio.
Tom Uhlman AP

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 1:44 pm

For the first time in a long time there is actually more than a modicum of interest in the women's side of a Grand Slam tournament. And, of course, it's all strictly due to a party of one: Serena Williams.

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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

Feeling Just Wild About Wild Cards

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is out at second against Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar. Despite less-than-stellar statistics, the Orioles are contenders in the American League wild-card race.
Nick Wass AP

Originally published on Wed August 15, 2012 1:46 pm

Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, has persuaded his owners and the players to add an extra wild-card team to the playoffs, so now five teams per league will qualify.

Not only is this terrific for the fans, but Selig also wisely managed to make it so that the wild-card teams engage in a one-game showdown for the privilege of being the team that joins the three division winners in the battle for the league championship.

I have just the old-fashioned word for this newfangled development: nifty.

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Sweetness And Light
3:27 am
Wed August 8, 2012

How Can You Really Measure The Greatest Olympian?

Before U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps broke the record for the most medals, did anyone say the precious record-holder, gymnast Larisa Latynina, was the greatest Olympian?
Leon Neal AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 11:52 am

I always like it when Olympic champions from one sport go to another competition, so I was particularly touched to see Kobe Bryant, with his children in tow, watching as the magnificent Michael Phelps bid adieu to his sport by winning yet one last gold.

Phelps and Bryant are connected these days, too, because both have prompted some historical conversation. Kobe boasted that his current U.S. basketball squad could beat the sainted Dream Team of '92, while Phelps, simply by piling up more medals, opened up the barroom debate about who might be the greatest Olympian ever.

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Sweetness And Light
5:12 am
Wed August 1, 2012

Four Sports Superstars, Four Years Later

Michael Phelps reacts after winning silver in the men's 200-meter butterfly final at the Aquatics Centre on Tuesday. South Africa's Chad le Clos took home the gold.
Matt Slocum AP

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 4:34 pm

Let us go back an Olympiad, to August of 2008. Incredibly, then, in all four of the world's most popular men's individual sports, we were at a time when, quite possibly, the four greatest champions ever in each of those sports was at or near his peak.

There they were, as the Beijing Olympics began:

  • Tiger Woods, 32 years old, still a prime age for a golfer, winner of his 14th major, the U.S. Open, only a few weeks ago — gloriously alone at the top.
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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue July 24, 2012

From Obscurity To The Olympics Back To Obscurity

Know who this gymnast is? You will soon. Seventeen-year-old Jordyn Wieber will compete for the U.S. women's gymnastics team in the 2012 London Olympics.
Jeff Roberson AP

Originally published on Wed July 25, 2012 8:12 am

Why do we like the Olympics?

If somebody hadn't thought to start them up again 116 years ago, would ESPN have invented them to fill in summer programming?

I'm not being cranky. It's just that most of the most popular Olympic sports are the groundhog games. Swimming, gymnastics and track and field come out every four years, see their shadow and go right back underground where nobody pays any attention to them for another four years. Can you even name a gymnast?

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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue July 17, 2012

Doping In Baseball: The Needle And The Damage Done

Marathon medal winners listen to the anthem from the victory stand during the presentation ceremony at the XXI Summer Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976. From left, Frank Shorter, U.S.A., silver; Waldemar Cierpinski, East Germany, gold, Olympic record; and Karel Lismont, Belgium, bronze. Evidence of doping by the East Germans suggests that Shorter deserved the gold medal.
AP

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 9:57 am

The 2012 induction ceremony for the Baseball Hall of Fame takes place this weekend, so there's even more discussion about the 2013 election, because then both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be on the ballot, along with several other players who are also suspected of having used performance-enhancing drugs.

I've been surprised to learn that some baseball writers have declared that they'll vote for Bonds and Clemens because they were the best players in an era when drug use was widespread — ergo if there's a lot of guilt going around, then nobody should be assigned guilt.

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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue July 10, 2012

Going To The Game: The Price Is Wrong?

Andy Murray returns a shot during the men's final match at Wimbledon. A pair of tickets for the match went for £32,000 (about $50,000).
Paul Gilham Getty Images

Originally published on Wed July 11, 2012 4:45 am

Sports is more ubiquitous than ever on television. And sports is almost the only thing that's left, live, on TV. NBC Universal is even going to let Americans see the Olympics live this year.

Nevertheless, despite TV's charm, last week as Andy Murray, Great Britain's homeboy, drew closer to making the Wimbledon final, the word was that tickets for actual Centre Court seats would be scalped for up to £32,000 a pair. If you're not hanging around the currency exchange market, that comes to something like $50,000. For two tickets. To a game.

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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue July 3, 2012

Joe Paterno's Legacy: Protect Players At All Costs

Joe Paterno walks the sidelines during warm-ups before a game between his Penn State Nittany Lions and the Temple Owls in Philadelphia last September. Paterno, who died in January, was fired on Nov. 9, four days after Jerry Sandusky was initially arrested on charges of sexually abusing 10 boys.
Chris Szagola AP

Originally published on Wed July 4, 2012 8:39 am

It is not facetious to say that dying may not have been the worst thing to happen to Joe Paterno this past year.

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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Title IX At 40: What Has Changed, And What's Next

The adoption of Title IX has spurred growth in women's collegiate sports, including soccer. But a women's pro league has struggled, cutting its season short this year. Here, Notre Dame celebrates winning the NCAA College Cup in 2010.
Gerry Broome AP

Originally published on Wed June 20, 2012 8:08 am

Saturday is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which, although almost nobody anticipated it then, resulted in women's gaining the right to participate in sports commensurate with their numbers attending college.

Title IX not only had a huge effect on women's participation in sports, but also, culturally, it influenced the way both men and women view the idea of women and athletics. It's mattered greatly in our American society.

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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

The Language of Baseball: In Is Out And Foul Is Fair

Pittsburgh Pirates fans reach for a foul ball hit into the stands by Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals in the seventh inning of a game in Pittsburgh.
Keith Srakocic AP

Originally published on Wed June 13, 2012 8:14 am

Baseball historians continue to poke around in the 19th century to better explain how the game was originated and developed, but I've always wondered if one of the prime movers wasn't a student of Shakespeare.

While I certainly don't know the terminology of all ball games, the popular ones I'm aware of — everything from basketball and football to golf and tennis — all use some variations of the words in and out when determining whether the ball is playable.

Only baseball is different.

"Fair is foul and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air."

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Sweetness And Light
2:57 am
Wed June 6, 2012

Please Sir, I'd Rather Have Another

Triple Crown hopefull I'll Have Another is ridden by exercise rider Jonny Garcia during a morning workout at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
Al Bello Getty Images

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 12:07 pm

To be perverse, I'd suggest that for the horse-racing industry, it'd be best that I'll Have Another does not — yes, does not — win the Triple Crown this Saturday.

Oh, certainly, absolutely every year you want a horse to win the first two races — the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness — so that suspense builds and a horse has a chance to win the Belmont and take the Triple Crown. But isn't it better to have the potential winner barely get beat so that the losing streak continues, building interest?

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Sweetness And Light
10:02 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

In Europe's High Season For Sports, Soccer Rules

Larger Than Life: Tourists pose in front of a UEFA Euro 2012 Cup placard on Kiev's Independence Square in Ukraine. Europe is entering a packed sports schedule — but soccer still reigns supreme, says Frank Deford.
Sergei Supinsky AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 30, 2012 8:04 am

It's a prime irony that while Europe is suffering a great financial crisis, in counterpoint, the Continent is starting to spend the summer awash in a veritable plethora of joyous sporting events, a rolling athletic circus to divert Europeans from Angela Merkel telling them to get serious and tighten their belts.

Now, as is the case every summer, there are two Grand Slam tennis championships — the French Open, which is already under way, and Wimbledon. Then the Tour de France and British Open golf.

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Sweetness And Light
3:23 am
Wed May 23, 2012

NBA And NHL Playoffs: Does Anyone Really Care?

Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs have won 18 games in a row as they head into the NBA's Western Conference Finals. But Frank Deford wants to know: Has anyone noticed?
Harry How Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 8:23 am

It's the climax of the hockey and basketball seasons, but both have potential playoff visibility problems. Let me explain.

OK, the NBA first. As you know, basketball is the most individualized, celebrity-ized team game. Like movie stars, the best players are known by their first names: LeBron, Kobe, Dirk. Every basketball superstar wants to take his talents to a hot-dog, big-time market. Or at least marry a Kardashian.

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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

The American Way: Winners And Losers, And No Ties

Real Salt Lake's Jonny Steele (right) trips Chicago Fire's Sebastian Grazzini during a Major League Soccer matchup. The game ended without a score — one of 11 ties each MLS team is likely to record this season.
John Smierciak AP

Originally published on Wed May 16, 2012 8:13 am

Politicians love to boast about American exceptionalism: how special we are from all the merely ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill countries around the globe. I would say that what sets us apart, more all the time, is that we Americans don't like ties.

I don't mean four-in-hands or bow ties, but the ties in games, the ones that somebody once said are "like kissing your sister." Boy, do I agree — and I never even had a sister. Nothing about me is more American than that I don't like ties.

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Sweetness And Light
3:43 am
Wed May 9, 2012

Mind Games: Football And Head Injuries

Attorney William T. Gibbs (left), and Tregg Duerson, son of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, announce the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL on Feb. 23 in Chicago. The lawsuit accuses the NFL of negligently causing the brain damage that led Duerson to take his own life at 50, by not warning him of the negative effects of concussions.
Charles Rex Arbogast AP

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 8:14 am

Even as the great, sad Junior Seau killed himself, more and more other old football players are joining in class action to sue the National Football League. They're claiming, generally, that while the NFL understood — for years — how vulnerable its players were to head injuries, the league did not sufficiently warn players about the danger of concussions.

Nor did the teams first do no harm — instead, allowing players to go back into games when they should have been kept out of the action.

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Sweetness And Light
10:13 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

A Horse Of A Different Color

Hansen, ridden by Ramon A. Dominguez, races to the finish to win the March 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in New York.
Adam Coglianese AP

Originally published on Wed May 2, 2012 2:04 pm

The 3-year-old champion colt named Hansen will not be the favorite in the Derby Saturday, but most eyes will unavoidably be upon him.

You see, in a field of chestnuts and bays, Hansen is already brilliant white. Well, technically he's a gray, but without boring you with equine pigmentation detail, thoroughbred grays — like the great Native Dancer — turn whiter as they grow older, and Hansen is simply prematurely white, sort of a four-legged Steve Martin.

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Sweetness And Light
3:04 am
Wed April 25, 2012

U.S. Women In Golf, Tennis: Where Are You?

Yani Tseng of Taiwan hits a bunker shot to the ninth green during the second round of the LPGA LOTTE Championship at the Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Hawaii.
Jeff Gross Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 25, 2012 8:10 am

Here's today's sports question: Who are Victoria Azarenka and Yani Tseng?

Give up? Well, they only happen to be the No. 1 women's tennis player and golfer in the world. If you don't know them, you're obviously a sexist fantasy football zealot.

No, no, I'll give you a pass.

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Sweetness And Light
10:03 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Those Wild And Crazy Miami Marlins

Billy the Marlin cheers during a game between the Miami Marlins and the Houston Astros at Marlins Park in Miami.
Mike Ehrmann Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 18, 2012 7:59 am

Can I give you a word I love that you just don't hear anymore?

Zany.

It used to be that all kinds of stuff was described as "zany," but it seems to have mostly gone out for fancier words like "dysfunctional."

Now, I bring this up because most sports franchises are pretty standard issue. Oh, some are rich, some poor, some win, some lose, but only one currently, to my mind, descends to the dear old level of zany. That is the Miami Marlins, formerly the Florida Marlins, or, now, as I like to call them, given their location in Little Havana, Los Zany-os.

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Sweetness And Light
10:00 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

The NCAA: Is Membership Worth It?

NCAA President Mark Emmert delivers his State of the Association speech on Jan. 12 during the organization's annual convention in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings AP

Originally published on Wed April 11, 2012 7:41 am

Just as the public has lately been surprised to discover that football is really a very perilous game for your head, those Americans who do not pay that much attention to sports have been brought up short recently to learn better what an incredibly hypocritical and autocratic cartel is the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

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Sweetness And Light
2:30 am
Wed April 4, 2012

Is It Time To Tone Down The Tiger Woods Coverage?

Tiger Woods at a practice round ahead of the 2012 Masters Tournament, which begins Thursday in Augusta, Ga. Woods receives the lion's share of press coverage despite his poor record over the past several years.
Streeter Lecka Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 2:47 pm

Hearing about golf these past couple of years has turned into some sort of dual universe. On the one hand there is the real world, like: "Smith and Jones Tied for Lead in Cat Food Open."

But then, in more detail, the larger shadow story reads: "Tiger's Putter Falters, Trails By 12 Strokes."

Golf has become like fantasy football or Rotisserie Baseball. Only, imagine if everybody has the same guy — Tiger Woods — on his team. No other golfers seem to exist, except possibly The Ghost of Jack Nicklaus.

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Sweetness And Light
12:01 am
Wed March 28, 2012

Watching College Basketball's Slump Into Anonymity

Duke freshman Austin Rivers, seen here in the Blue Devils' loss to Lehigh in the NCAA tournament, is leaving school for the NBA draft. The trend of athletes spending only one year in college has hurt the sport, says Frank Deford.
Streeter Lecka Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 28, 2012 10:31 am

This year's Final Four seems more like Best in Show at the Westminster. Such pedigree: Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State and Louisville –– four of the very top dogs in the history of the sport. Well, it's a Meryl Streep kind of year, isn't it?

But if the Final Four might delight fans by giving them aristocracy in its teams, unfortunately the whole of college basketball is plagued by anonymity in its players, and external issues that have diminished the popularity of the game.

Good grief. This year, there has been more buzz about Mad Men than about March Madness.

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Sweetness And Light
4:08 am
Wed March 21, 2012

Americans Hit The Brakes On NASCAR

Drivers practice for the Budweiser Shootout at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Fla.
Jamie Squire Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 21, 2012 12:25 pm

Individual sports are always volatile, and after being the next big thing, NASCAR's popularity has stalled.

A lot had to do with the economy. In a sport that depends on sponsorships and rich owners — like those good buddies Mitt Romney kicks tires with --– NASCAR was especially vulnerable.

And as for fans, when it became cutback time, they had to think twice about gassing up those big old RVs and driving a far piece to sit in those ear-shattering stadiums.

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Sweetness And Light
12:01 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Calling Foul: In Basketball, Crunch Time Goes Limp

In the closing minutes of a game last month, Purdue University's Robbie Hummel was fouled by Penn State's Matt Glover. College basketball needs to find ways to make its games' final moments more exciting, says Frank Deford.
Michael Conroy AP

One thing that distinguishes most team sports is that the game is suddenly played differently at the end. Often, this adds to the fascination, too. Nothing, for example, gets a rise out of me like when the hockey goalie skates off the ice with a minute or so to go, his team down a goal, leaving an open net.

In championship soccer, tie games go to a shoot-out, which is totally alien with all that came before. Neat stuff.

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