Award-winning sports writer and commentator Frank Deford has died. He was 78.
His family says he died Sunday in Key West, Florida.
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 as a contributor.
“Frank was dealing with an audience that doesn’t turn to the sports pages first thing,” said Tom Goldman, an NPR sports correspondent who recently spent time with Deford in Key West. “And he was proudest of the many comments he got over the years from people saying, ‘I don’t really like sports, but I like what you did, and you made me more interested in it.'”
He was the first sports writer awarded the National Humanities Medal. In 2013, President Barack Obama honored him 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 at the time.
Deford called the award the one he is most proud of.
His long profiles, covering all corners of sports, were for years a showcase in Sports Illustrated.
“He could watch the grittiest game and zoom in on the moment that made it important,” AP national sports columnist Jim Litke said. “Nobody was better at connecting sports to the culture at large. He dressed up every event he attended.”
Deford also was a prolific book author and contributed commentaries to HBO’s “Real Sports” program.
“I’m stunned by Frank’s passing. Yes, he’d been ill, but just a week ago, he’d joked to me about finally being released from the hospital,” said Bryant Gumbel, host of “Real Sports.”
“In addition to being an immense talent, he was a consummate gentleman, a dear friend, and a beloved, original member of our ‘Real Sports’ family. Frank was a giant in the world of sports. His loss is immeasurable.”
Deford joined HBO Sports in 1995 and his first report chronicled life in Augusta, Georgia, outside of the Masters. It was called “The American Singapore.” He delivered 119 segments for the show and was a feature reporter at Wimbledon in the 1990s. Deford also hosted HBO documentaries.