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.

Football is unique in that most players participate in only half the game — offense or defense.

After 117 years, sports has finally made it to the big time, when, starting next Tuesday, a sports company will be included in the Dow Jones averages.

The Dow Jones, of course, has always preferred very serious corporations –– your banks, your automotives, your insurers. OK, the movies were allowed in 1932 with the inclusion of Loews, and Walt Disney was brought onboard in 1991, but sports was never considered substantial enough for an industrial average until now, when Nike has been ordained.

Yes, Dow Jones has the swoosh.

For sportswriters the fattest target has always been the America's Cup. It's too easy. It's like all those political writers who make fun of vice presidents and think they're being original. Sportswriters have been going har-de-har-har about the America's Cup even long before one of their wags said it was like watching paint dry. Or like watching grass grow. One or the other. Maybe both.

Each football season brings exciting plays and game heroes, but Frank Deford says the real heroes are often overlooked.

As another school year and college football season gets underway, Deford looks at the frustrations and challenges facing educators to keep student athletes eligible.

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.

Let's see, now. That self-proclaimed fortress of liberty and fellowship, the International Olympic Committee, awards the Winter Olympics to Russia for 2014. After all, China worked out so well as an exemplar of freedom of the press at Beijing in 2008.

Then, Russia, duly a signator of the Olympic charter proclaiming the "preservation of human dignity," trots out an anti-homosexual law that would've made Ivan the Terrible have second thoughts.

The ugliest, most ill-conceived physical addition to sports scenery was the construction, a few years ago, of the Arthur Ashe tennis stadium at the U.S. Open. Typical U.S. supersize. We'll be bigger than everyone else, so there.

Alas, in the upper reaches of this charmless behemoth you need a GPS to find the players somewhere down there at sea level. Worse, should it rain, which it has a wont to do in New York, there are no players on the court and you get wet.

In Japan, a noren is a short curtain that hangs to the entrance of a little teahouse or restaurant. It is not solid, but made of strips, and so when you go through it, your hand goes first, then your arm, and the rest of you, but quickly the strips fall back into place, and it is as if a wisp, a ghost, a sprite has passed through.

I always visualized Ichiro Suzuki that way, slipping from Japanese baseball to our major leagues so effortlessly, barely stirring the air.

You may never have heard of Dick Kazmaier. After all, he played in the Ivy League, never went to the NFL and filled a position, tailback, in a formation, the single-wing, that has long since disappeared.

But as the years have passed, that is what makes Kazmaier so special: that he best represented another time, when there was more whimsy and capriciousness to college athletics.

I read the other day that 16,000 people have been recruited as volunteers for next year's Super Bowl in New Jersey, and suddenly it occurred to me: the Super Bowl is one of the great financial bonanzas of modern times. From the players to the networks to the hotels, everybody involved with it makes a killing. Why would anybody volunteer to work for free for the Super Bowl? Would you volunteer to work free for Netflix or Disneyworld?

"And this is a long-term project: We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement." President Obama

In 1961 the American League schedule was lengthened by eight games to 162, and it was about this time that summer that the commissioner –– of whom it was once written, "An empty cab drove up to the curb and Ford Frick got out" –– declared that even if some player broke Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs, it would not count if he needed more games than Ruth had had.

So, when Roger Maris hit his 61st in the last game of the longer season, the distinction did not displace Ruth in the record books but was merely listed along with The Babe's lesser number.

Aaron Hernandez, who appears to be a monster, can no more be held up as representative of football than can Oscar Pistorius be fairly presented as an archetype of track and field.

But still, Hernandez does become a culminating figure. The sport is simply more and more identified with violence, both in its inherent nature and in its savage personnel.

It's been a week but tennis fans are still talking about the big loss of a big favorite at Wimbledon. This is sports drama, a heartbreaking soap opera as only Frank Deford can imagine it:

She brushed her fallen golden locks from off her forehead and turned away, not letting him see that she was fighting off tears.

We usually think of college sports in terms of classic big-time schools, polls and bowls.

But, in fact, our athletics are intertwined with — and complicate — all higher education.

The University of North Carolina, Wilmington provides a typical recent case. The Seahawks field teams in 19 Division One sports, but unfortunately, like many colleges, UNCW athletics are in the red, so the chancellor, Gary L. Miller, assembled a committee, which recommended the elimination of five sports: men's and women's swimming, men's cross country and indoor track and softball.

In Milwaukee, cartoon characters dressed up like various sausages race at each Brewers' game; in Washington, five of our beloved presidents do their own bratwurst ramble. But the character I want to appear at every baseball game –– and at a couple of other sports, too, is ...

tick-tock,tick-tock

... the crocodile from Peter Pan who swallowed a clock and shadows a terrified Capt. Hook.

Basketball offers its fans the ultimate contradiction. On the one hand, it's the sport that most depends on its stars. On the other, it's the most intimate — even organic — of all the team games, with its players more fundamentally involved with one another. Both of these opposing realities are rooted in the same base.

When my old pal the Sports Curmudgeon had some mildly churlish things to say about golf a few weeks ago, both he and I were upbraided by loyal linksters. As one snapped at me, "You don't know anything about golf."

Perhaps.

But I know all about golf propaganda.

The most unforgiving criticism in sport is directed at any athlete who fans believe is celebrated too excessively above his true talent level — especially those stars who are gloried because they're such pretty people.

The Great Gatsby is on the screen again, re-opening the perennial debate about whether or not it is the great American novel. Or was that Huckleberry Finn? Or are we still waiting for the great American novel? Is the title vacant, like most recent Tour de France championships? In the arts, the argument over the great American novel is a rather unusual great fuss about the greatest. In most disciplines there simply doesn't seem to be a passion to constantly assess who's No. 1. Except, except ...

Except in sport.

Fans of women's sports often maintain that female athletics get short shrift from the media, so it had to be something of a surprise gift when ESPN presented the start of the WNBA's draft live.

This happened as it was announced that after two abject failures in the past decade, yet another professional soccer league for women will dare venture forth in the United States.

My friend the Sports Curmudgeon called me the other day: "Hey, Frank, I got a few things to get off my chest." He was about to take off on a Fantasy Fan cruise, where devoted sports buffs are drafted as fans for desperate losing teams, but he promised to text me his complaints once the ship got out to sea.

Sure enough, here came the Sports Curmudgeon's latest rants.

Yet another movie about Jackie Robinson arrived as baseball held its annual commemorative celebration of No. 42, but officials of the game are fretting over the fact that only 8 1/2 percent of current major leaguers are black.

Given that African-Americans only constitute about 13 percent of the U.S. population, and that rarely do we have any industry or school system or community population that correlates exactly to the whole country's racial or ethnic makeup, baseball's somewhat smaller black cohort hardly seems like an issue to agonize over.

Let us now ponder the exquisite status of Tiger Woods, who has clawed back to the top of the charts thereby to proclaim, with the help of his Nike mouthpiece, that his ragged and raw past few years never really happened because — ta-da –– as his ad says: "Winning takes care of everything."

And yes, indeed, he is No. 1 in the rankings again. And, too, he has a beautiful new girlfriend, although, of course, I will not mention her name here, so as not to be a member of what he calls the "stalkerazzi."

It being the start of baseball season, that means we've been inundated by predictions — who'll win the divisions and the pennants and the World Series? We know two things on this subject. In every sport, at the start of the season, the experts are bound and determined to make these long-range predictions. And second, they are invariably wrong.

There once was a wise old basketball coach named Arad McCutchan who led the Evansville Purple Aces to five national championships in the small-college division, dressing his Purple Aces in bright orange T-shirts. I've been reminded of this recently as a number of grubby athletic directors have sold out to the sporting goods companies, allowing their teams to be costumed in the most hideous outfits.

The more I travel, the more I see sports bars. They've been around for years, usually in obvious places, like in college towns or near arenas.

But now they're everywhere, even in airports and hotels, places where you'd expect generic bars. Sports bars are becoming ubiquitous and ordinary — merely, as my wife calls them, public man caves.

All bars, of course, have forever been places where men talk about sports. Other prime saloon subjects include women, the traffic and the weather.

Several years ago I gave a speech in which I mentioned that athletes tended to be the only college students who were awarded scholarships for what is an extracurricular activity.

Afterward, Myles Brand, the late president of the NCAA, told me I was wrong, that many music extracurricular scholarships were awarded at colleges.

Brand and I seldom agreed on much of anything, but I've always found him to be a gentleman. So, I expressed surprise at this claim.

I've always felt it's no coincidence that some basketball powerhouses — let us say, off the top of my head, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Indiana — get a few better players because those hoops museums don't do very well with football.

I mean, if I were a big-deal high school recruit, I might very well say to myself, "You know, I'd rather be a Hoosier or a Wildcat or a Jayhawk than I would go someplace where I'm just gonna be a lounge act for the glamorous Mr. Touchdowns."

The great social quest in American sport is to have one prominent, active, gay male athlete step forward and identify himself.

But I have a similar quest. I seek one prominent college president to say to her trustees or to the other presidents in his conference: "The NCAA is a sham and disgrace. Let's get out of it."

We know those presidents who disdain the NCAA are out there, but, alas, none dare speak the words that will break the evil spell.

These have certainly been dispiriting times for those who admire athletes, who proclaim that sports build character. The horrendous shooting by Oscar Pistorius is of course, in a category mercifully unapproached since the O.J. Simpson case, but the Whole Earth Catalog of recent examples of athletic character-building is certainly noteworthy.

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