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.

You may not know that the WNBA finals begin this weekend. It's probably fair to say that if it were the NBA you would know.

More people pay attention to men's sports than women's sports, and one reason for that is inertia. Women are pretty new to big-time sports — and perhaps the media haven't caught up with them.

Also, there aren't that many women's team sports. Lots of people tune in to watch Serena Williams play tennis, and this summer, swimmer Katie Ledecky got a lot of attention — but they play individual sports.

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Yogi Berra died last night at the age of 90. In remembrance of his passing, let's go back 10 years and listen to a commentary Frank Deford delivered in honor of a man who was both a baseball legend and one of the game's truly great characters.

"It's plain and simple: baseball is a radio game." So said Milo Hamilton, the longtime play-by-play man for the Houston Astros, who died the other day. And, yes, radio and baseball have so long gone together. The familiar voices in the booth — perennials, like flowers — announcers such as Hamilton and Vin Scully, who, at the age of 87, just signed on to broadcast Dodger games for another year — often have been more identified with their teams than the players who merely come and go.

As an absolutely impossible thing happened to Serena Williams on the way to becoming the absolutely guaranteed Grand Slam champion, it reminds us once again, on the field of play, there is no sure thing. But off the field, some things are, to coin a word: un-upsettable.

At the top of the un-upsettable list is that in American city after American city, either the voters or their elected tribunes will put up oodles of the citizens' hard-deducted tax money in order to fund a new stadium for the benefit of a filthy-rich team owner.

While many legal experts expected the Tom Brady deflated football case to be settled in favor of the NFL, those wise lawyers neglected pertinent history. That is, that for 40 years now, most important decisions between sports organizations and their players, which have been adjudicated by some neutral outside agency, have been settled in favor of the athletes.

Players may win and lose games on the field, but in America, players win big in court — and they have, time and time again, since 1975, when the Andy Messersmith case led to the demise of the reserve clause in baseball.

On Wednesday, in honor of footballs that are inflated, we must discuss extra points. The NFL is monkeying around with the extra point again. You think it should? Do you have a better idea? Do we even need an extra point? Why do we have an extra point?

Well, the extra point is vestigial, a leftover from the good old 19th century days when football had identity problems and couldn't decide whether or not it was rugby. Or something. At that point, in fact, what was sort of the extra point counted more than the touchdown itself.

Always, the ever-tantalizing, ever-impossible discussion in every sport revolves around who's the greatest player ever. It's so difficult trying to compare champions from different eras, but it's a constant party game and especially in vogue now, as Serena Williams prepares to try to win the U.S. Open. Doing so would not only give her the first tennis Grand Slam since Steffi Graf won in 1988 but would give Williams her 22 major titles, tying Graf at the top of the tree.

In an odd way, the longer and more tangled that what has been called "deflategate" goes on, the more it becomes about the commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, than it does about Tom Brady, whom Goodell suspended for four games — deeming him guilty of having some part in deflating footballs in a playoff.

Because college football and basketball are so prominent, when the best players move up to the pros they're already well-known.

However, baseball's different.

How many of you pretty good sports fans can tell me who won the baseball College World Series just a few weeks ago? Same with the players. Even the stars drafted highest are anonymous except to the real cognoscenti. And even then, whereas invariably the can't-miss prospects in other sports don't miss, hardly ever miss, in baseball nobody ever says: Can't miss. Fact is, the ones who miss too often are the scouts.

Some people wanna ban boxing. I just wanna ban boxing movies.

You get the feeling sometimes that Hollywood still thinks Joe Louis is heavyweight champion and boxing is still top-tier popular? Yes, there's yet another boxing movie out, this one entitled Southpaw.

Oh, please, please. Making boxing movies when boxing is so passé would be like if Hollywood kept making showbiz movies about vaudeville.

Click the audio above to hear Frank Deford's take on movies about boxing.

In the famous Disney movie, a carpenter named Geppetto longed to have a son. He carved a puppet of a boy, and, wouldn't you know it, the wooden Pinocchio magically became a real child. Fantasy games are the Pinocchio of sport, for all who play them become Geppettos. Isn't it the dream of every fan to construct his or her own team, as Geppetto wanted to carve out a son?

Soccer owns sports nationalism. There are world championships and continental championships in all kinds of sports, but when it comes to countries playing against each other, soccer's tournament is more spectacular than all the others put together. Hey, win the World Cup, baby, you're ticker tape on Broadway.

Whereas numbers have never been a significant adjunct to the other performing arts, they've been stitched into the very essence of sport. Not just the score, but how fast, how far, how good. And, of course, no sport is so identified with numbers as is our American baseball.

In fact, baseball statistics have been around almost as long as baseball. But stats — which is a fairly new shortcut word, about as old as the Mets and Astros are — have proliferated recently, not only in other sports, notably basketball, but to deeper and deeper levels of baseball enlightenment.

For those of you who haven't got your baseball All-Star ballot in, don't panic, you have until Thursday. It's convenient. You can get a ballot off the Internet, and here's the good news: You can vote 35 times.

Understand what I'm saying? Each fan can cast 35 votes. Where that magic figure comes from, I don't know. Why not 3,500 apiece? Or 35,000?

Ah, it's summer, and sport is of a sweeter sort now — don't you think? For instance, of all the jobs in sport, I think maybe the best is retrieving foul balls. The boys and girls in that job get to wear uniforms and gloves, but mostly they just sit and occasionally gather up a foul ball, then give it away to some happy fan. Isn't that a neat job?

Something of a cause célèbre has developed because ESPN has decided to present the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner. The ceremony will take place at its annual ESPYs award show in July.

Around 1980, shortly after I had helped Ashe write an autobiography, I got a call from the leader of a powerful political faction. The group wanted to increase its appeal to minorities by presenting an award to a tennis player who aided the cause of minorities in the sport. They asked if I would chair a committee to select such a person.

There is hardly a sport that has not named a version of its annual multiple championships. Two wins is not enough; you have to win three (a "Crown") or four (a "Grand Slam"). For example, if you win the three major races in thoroughbred racing, it's called the Triple Crown. In men's and women's tennis and men's golf, to win all four majors is to earn a Grand Slam.

Sport may be dismissed as inconsequential child's play, but there is, in counterpoint, the ideal that sport is our best model for human fairness and equality — a Garden of Eden with competition. But, of course, there are snakes in this athletic garden. Rules will be broken.

To my mind there are, in ascending order, three kinds of transgressions. The first is the most simple: transgressions committed in the heat of the action, instinctively, because of frustration, failure or anger. There are referees to tend to that misconduct.

Here's a question to ponder over your morning coffee: Why?

Why would the New England Patriots' Tom Brady get involved in a scandal? This week, Brady, who has denied any wrongdoing, was suspended four games for his alleged involvement in lowering the pressure in the footballs he threw in a playoff game.

Yet he did not seem to need to cheat to win.

It's interesting to note the major differences in the way the media deals with sports stars and entertainment celebrities in public.

When entertainment personalities are interviewed, they are dressed to the nines, and the interrogation consists mostly of compliments. Athletes, however, are interviewed all grubby and sweaty, and primarily, they are rudely asked to explain themselves. Why did you strike out? How could you have possibly dropped that pass?

It was long an article of faith among sport cognoscenti that nothing in athletics approached the sheer electric drama and glamour of a heavyweight championship fight.

Well, if you missed it, they had one of those in no less a shrine than Madison Square Garden on Saturday. You could have watched it on plain old TV if you were not already analyzing the NFL draft, following the NBA or NHL playoffs or watching the baseball season unfold. Poor, ignored heavyweights.

In an interview airing Friday on ABC, Bruce Jenner is expected to announce that he is transgender, though he has made no such acknowledgment.

As the public awaits his presumed revelations, Jenner is still invariably and glibly identified by his paternal connection to the Kardashian clan. It's presented almost anecdotally that he won the gold medal for the Olympic decathlon — the 10-event classic of track and field athleticism — in 1976. But back then, he was a glorified champion and called "the world's greatest athlete."

Whatever happened to rotator cuffs? It seems like just yesterday that every pitcher who was injured had a problem with his rotator cuff. But baseball player injuries now invariably require something called "Tommy John surgery," which has become epidemic.

Wherever you stand on the matter of American exceptionalism, there is one indisputable fact: We are the exception when it comes to soccer. For just about every other nation, soccer is the sport — a far, far better thing than the American dollar, beer, Google or sex. Alas, in the United States, soccer has been more commonly identified with soccer moms than soccer players.

The inimitable "Hot Rod" Hundley died last week at age 80. He will be remembered as a great announcer, even though he was also an All-American basketball player. He messed it up after just six years in the NBA when he forgot about concentrating on the fun and games.

"You gotta love it, baby" was his signature call for the 35 years he broadcast games for the NBA Jazz. Even when he was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, he was already trying out expressions, mimicking announcers and working on punch lines.

Once again, the question of the NFL's pre-eminence — even existence — has been raised with the retirement of Chris Borland, a very good player, who has walked away from the game and millions of dollars at the age of 24 in order to preserve his health, or more specifically, his brain.

It's the venerable custom in tennis and golf for the crowd to be still and quiet when players hit their shots.

Now, since even ordinary baseball batters have some success hitting against 98 mph fastballs with 40,000 fans standing and screaming, do you really believe that great athletes like Novak Djokovic or Rory McIlroy couldn't serve or putt with a few thousand fans hollering? If they'd grown up playing tennis or golf that way, that is. When disorder is a sustaining part of the game, players, in effect, put it out of their minds. Hear no evil, see no evil.

OK, after an eight-year investigation, the NCAA hit Syracuse University and its basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, with all sorts of penalties for academic and recruiting violations. Normally in sports media, nobody is particularly surprised whenever any coach is caught, so a great deal of speculation was then diverted to how this might affect Boeheim's "legacy."

One of the very best old-time sports columnists was named Jimmy Cannon. He wrote after Hemingway, tough-guy style, and Jimmy had a lot of original devices, too. One was an occasional column he'd do in what I called the second person impersonal. For example, my favorite was about an aging hitting star when he was in a slump. Cannon began: "Your name is Stan Musial and all your bats are broken."

Now, that's how you start a column. And so, in honor of Jimmy Cannon: Your name is Alex Rodriguez, and nobody likes you.

Sometime in the future, when the Winter Olympics are being held in the tropics, in Zimbabwe, because there are no other dictators that want them and Robert Mugabe promised the International Olympic Committee he'd build an artificial ski mountain, historians will study what happened in sports during these last few days in February of 2015.