KEY WEST, Fla. – Frank Deford, the renowned sportswriter and commentator, has died. He was 78.
The death was confirmed Monday by NPR, where Deford delivered commentaries for 37 years.
“Frank [left] us 1,656 of his signature insights into the world of sports and the human stories behind athletic triumphs,” NPR President and CEO Jarl Mohn said in a statement. “The world of sports commentaries will never be the same.”
Deford was also well known for a decades-long career at Sports Illustrated, where he started working in 1962. The SI Twitter account called him a “titan and a gentleman.”
Deford wrote lengthy features on iconic sports figures like Bob Knight, the cantankerous Indiana basketball coach, and Billy Conn, the boxer known as “The Pittsburgh Kid.”
He was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama in 2013 “for transforming how we think about sports.”
“A dedicated writer and storyteller, Mr. Deford has offered a consistent, compelling voice in print and on radio, reaching beyond scores and statistics to reveal the humanity woven into the games we love,” Obama said.
Deford wrote regularly for NPR and delivered commentaries on “Morning Edition” until just a few weeks ago.
“From the Super Bowl as Shakespeare to the Sports Curmudgeon, to his regular castigating of the NCAA over how it treats its student athletes, to America’s complicated love affair with the NFL, Frank made every week memorable,” NPR noted at the time.
In his final appearance, Deford said he was grateful to have reached an audience that included people who “haven’t necessarily given a hoot about sports.”
“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,” he said.
Deford was voted U.S. Sportswriter of the Year six times, and was elected to the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. His 1981 novel “Everybody’s All-American” was adapted into a movie.
Prominent sportswriters weighed in with their memories of his life and work.
“I loved reading Frank Deford in SI and I loved The National,” tweeted Bill Simmons, referring to the short-lived daily sports newspaper where Deford was editor-in-chief almost three decades ago. “Sad to hear he passed away.”
“R.I.P. Frank Deford, a very nice man every time I met him,” wrote Will Leitch, the Sports on Earth editor and Deadspin founder.