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Frank Deford (1938 - 2017)

AP Images / Susan Ragan, File

Frank Deford (1938 - 2017)


Sports writer and commentator Frank Deford, who won awards for his work with Sports Illustrated magazine and NPR, has died at 78.

He died Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Key West, Florida, according to his family.

Deford began his career at Sports Illustrated in 1962, writing for the magazine through the 1980s, becoming well-known for his long-form pieces that were often the longest article in each issue of the publication.

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Deford left Sports Illustrated in 1989 to become editor-in-chief of a new sports-focused daily newspaper, The National. It survived less than two years, and Deford went on to contribute to CNN and to HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel." He returned to Sports Illustrated in 1998, serving as senior contributing writer until his death.

In 1980, while on still on staff at Sports Illustrated, Deford began contributing weekly commentary on sports to NPR's "Morning Edition." He continued doing so for 37 years, retiring from NPR just weeks before his death. He said that at NPR, "because it has such a broad audience, I was able to reach people who otherwise had little or no interest in sport. ... Nothing made me happier than to hear from literally hundreds of listeners who would tell me how much the commentaries revealed about a subject they otherwise had never cared much for."

Deford was also the author of 20 books, including the novel “Everybody's All-American,” which was turned into a 1988 movie starring  Jessica Lange and Dennis Quaid.

His daughter Alexandra, who was just 8 when she died of cystic fibrosis in 1980, was the subject of a memoir, “Alex: The Life of a Child.” Deford became an advocate for research on the disease during the 1970s and served as national chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation from 1982 to 1999.

Deford was honored with numerous awards over his long career. He was named Sports Writer of the Year six times by the National Sports Media Association; was inducted into the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1998; won an Emmy Award for work during the Seoul Olympics in 1998; and, in 2013, became the first sports writer to receive a National Humanities Medal. The award was presented by President Barack Obama, who said, "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."

Deford is survived by his wife, Carol Penner; two children, Christian and Scarlet; and two grandchildren.

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