Longtime sportswriter Frank Deford, who spent decades at Sports Illustrated and NPR, died Sunday at age 78. Deford’s wife first confirmed her husband’s death to The Washington Post and NPR on Monday.
He had been treated recently for pneumonia, but the immediate cause of death was unknown, said his wife, Carol Deford
Deford began his career at Sports Illustrated in 1962 and left the outlet in 1989 to become editor of The National, a daily sports newspaper with a grandiose vision of providing in-depth sports news that ceased publication after only 18 months. Deford eventually returned to Sports Illustrated, where he most recently held the title of senior editor emeritus.
“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 a fixture on HBO’s Real Sports and had retired earlier this month from his commentary gig on NPR that he held for 37 years, and was also awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2013.
“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, who lost a daughter at age 8 due to cystic fibrosis, crusaded to put an end to the crippling lung disease and served as the national chairperson for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
“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.