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.

It is not facetious to say that dying may not have been the worst thing to happen to Joe Paterno this past year.

Saturday is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which, although almost nobody anticipated it then, resulted in women's gaining the right to participate in sports commensurate with their numbers attending college.

Title IX not only had a huge effect on women's participation in sports, but also, culturally, it influenced the way both men and women view the idea of women and athletics. It's mattered greatly in our American society.

Baseball historians continue to poke around in the 19th century to better explain how the game was originated and developed, but I've always wondered if one of the prime movers wasn't a student of Shakespeare.

While I certainly don't know the terminology of all ball games, the popular ones I'm aware of — everything from basketball and football to golf and tennis — all use some variations of the words in and out when determining whether the ball is playable.

Only baseball is different.

"Fair is foul and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air."

To be perverse, I'd suggest that for the horse-racing industry, it'd be best that I'll Have Another does not — yes, does not — win the Triple Crown this Saturday.

Oh, certainly, absolutely every year you want a horse to win the first two races — the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness — so that suspense builds and a horse has a chance to win the Belmont and take the Triple Crown. But isn't it better to have the potential winner barely get beat so that the losing streak continues, building interest?

It's a prime irony that while Europe is suffering a great financial crisis, in counterpoint, the Continent is starting to spend the summer awash in a veritable plethora of joyous sporting events, a rolling athletic circus to divert Europeans from Angela Merkel telling them to get serious and tighten their belts.

Now, as is the case every summer, there are two Grand Slam tennis championships — the French Open, which is already under way, and Wimbledon. Then the Tour de France and British Open golf.

It's the climax of the hockey and basketball seasons, but both have potential playoff visibility problems. Let me explain.

OK, the NBA first. As you know, basketball is the most individualized, celebrity-ized team game. Like movie stars, the best players are known by their first names: LeBron, Kobe, Dirk. Every basketball superstar wants to take his talents to a hot-dog, big-time market. Or at least marry a Kardashian.

Politicians love to boast about American exceptionalism: how special we are from all the merely ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill countries around the globe. I would say that what sets us apart, more all the time, is that we Americans don't like ties.

I don't mean four-in-hands or bow ties, but the ties in games, the ones that somebody once said are "like kissing your sister." Boy, do I agree — and I never even had a sister. Nothing about me is more American than that I don't like ties.

Even as the great, sad Junior Seau killed himself, more and more other old football players are joining in class action to sue the National Football League. They're claiming, generally, that while the NFL understood — for years — how vulnerable its players were to head injuries, the league did not sufficiently warn players about the danger of concussions.

Nor did the teams first do no harm — instead, allowing players to go back into games when they should have been kept out of the action.

The 3-year-old champion colt named Hansen will not be the favorite in the Derby Saturday, but most eyes will unavoidably be upon him.

You see, in a field of chestnuts and bays, Hansen is already brilliant white. Well, technically he's a gray, but without boring you with equine pigmentation detail, thoroughbred grays — like the great Native Dancer — turn whiter as they grow older, and Hansen is simply prematurely white, sort of a four-legged Steve Martin.

Here's today's sports question: Who are Victoria Azarenka and Yani Tseng?

Give up? Well, they only happen to be the No. 1 women's tennis player and golfer in the world. If you don't know them, you're obviously a sexist fantasy football zealot.

No, no, I'll give you a pass.

Can I give you a word I love that you just don't hear anymore?

Zany.

It used to be that all kinds of stuff was described as "zany," but it seems to have mostly gone out for fancier words like "dysfunctional."

Now, I bring this up because most sports franchises are pretty standard issue. Oh, some are rich, some poor, some win, some lose, but only one currently, to my mind, descends to the dear old level of zany. That is the Miami Marlins, formerly the Florida Marlins, or, now, as I like to call them, given their location in Little Havana, Los Zany-os.

Just as the public has lately been surprised to discover that football is really a very perilous game for your head, those Americans who do not pay that much attention to sports have been brought up short recently to learn better what an incredibly hypocritical and autocratic cartel is the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Hearing about golf these past couple of years has turned into some sort of dual universe. On the one hand there is the real world, like: "Smith and Jones Tied for Lead in Cat Food Open."

But then, in more detail, the larger shadow story reads: "Tiger's Putter Falters, Trails By 12 Strokes."

Golf has become like fantasy football or Rotisserie Baseball. Only, imagine if everybody has the same guy — Tiger Woods — on his team. No other golfers seem to exist, except possibly The Ghost of Jack Nicklaus.

This year's Final Four seems more like Best in Show at the Westminster. Such pedigree: Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State and Louisville –– four of the very top dogs in the history of the sport. Well, it's a Meryl Streep kind of year, isn't it?

But if the Final Four might delight fans by giving them aristocracy in its teams, unfortunately the whole of college basketball is plagued by anonymity in its players, and external issues that have diminished the popularity of the game.

Good grief. This year, there has been more buzz about Mad Men than about March Madness.

Individual sports are always volatile, and after being the next big thing, NASCAR's popularity has stalled.

A lot had to do with the economy. In a sport that depends on sponsorships and rich owners — like those good buddies Mitt Romney kicks tires with --– NASCAR was especially vulnerable.

And as for fans, when it became cutback time, they had to think twice about gassing up those big old RVs and driving a far piece to sit in those ear-shattering stadiums.

One thing that distinguishes most team sports is that the game is suddenly played differently at the end. Often, this adds to the fascination, too. Nothing, for example, gets a rise out of me like when the hockey goalie skates off the ice with a minute or so to go, his team down a goal, leaving an open net.

In championship soccer, tie games go to a shoot-out, which is totally alien with all that came before. Neat stuff.

Coaches and managers, as a group, have always been pretty straightforward types. We don't think of generals or preachers as humorists — and, after all, that's pretty much what coaches are, a hybrid of the military and the pulpit.

But at least in the past, there were always a fair complement of coaching characters: old cracker-barrel philosophers, feisty wise guys and even a few sardonic intellectuals.

Dave Zinkoff — or simply "The Zink" — was perhaps the most distinctive public address announcer in sports when, years ago, he called games in Philadelphia, especially for the city's NBA teams. Just his declaring that there were two minutes left in the quarter made you feel that, never mind that quarter, doomsday was but 120 seconds away.

But nothing The Zink cried out was so resounding as when Wilt Chamberlain would make an emphatic slam.

"Dipper dunk!" he would holler.

When last we left the NCAA, it was February madness, colleges were jumping conferences, suing each other, coaches were claiming rivals had cheated in recruiting — the usual nobility of college sports.

And then, in the midst of all this, the men's basketball team at Washington College of Chestertown, Md., journeyed to Pennsylvania to play Gettysburg College in a Division III Centennial Conference game.

By now, most everybody knows Michael Lewis' story of Moneyball — best-selling book or Oscar-nominated film — about the poor little franchise in Oakland that learned how to compete against the big-city rich teams by discovering overlooked players.

The maestro of this policy, Billy Beane, is an endearing character, but I've never been all that charmed by the story, because Beane was just employing cold statistics. Oh, he was right, but it was like rooting for a guy at the blackjack tables who counts cards.

Imagine being not only the best high school player in the country — probably the world — and signing to play for the best college program in the country, but then walking away from the sport. Why would any kid do that?

But, of course, Elena Delle Donne did exactly that, and the reason she did is simply that she did not want to be away from her older sister.

Well, here we are starting February, with the single most important day in sports upon us.

No, of course I don't mean a silly little thing like Super Bowl Sunday. But today, the first Wednesday of the second month, is by some sort of — what, pagan lunar calendar? –– officially decreed National Signing Day, when all over America, high school seniors can officially plight their troth to a college football program.

Now that Joe Paterno has passed on from Happy Valley, we must ponder whether we will ever see his like again.

But please: I am now, you understand, talking about Coach Paterno. Let us, for the moment, put aside how the old citizen whose credo was "Success with Honor" acted with regard to pedophilia: so without sensitivity, so irresponsibly, so –– ultimately –– cold-bloodedly. That will sully Paterno's memory forever.

Now that Tim Tebow is out of hearts and minds, and we can actually turn our attention to other things, let us go clear to the other side of the world. There, a short while ago, while preparing for the Australian Open, Serena Williams said: "I don't love tennis today, but ... I've actually never liked sports."

While her confession might have surprised some, I suspect that even more were irritated, actually angered, that an athlete — a great champion! — could utter such blasphemy.

For the many reasons that the Republican presidential debates have been so popular, the main one is simply that they're live. Happening right before our eyes. When Rick Perry says "Oops," he's saying it just as we're hearing it. Live. Wow: "Oops."

This is why, whether you like sports or not — perhaps you'd desperately prefer NPR to have somebody else right now, talking about something really important, not sports — nonetheless, each month, you're charged about eight bucks on your cable bill for the privilege of not watching sports.

The Bowl Championship Series climaxes Tuesday, with a game in New Orleans between Louisiana State and Alabama for the national bragging rights to Dixie.

As there is a joke about the Holy Roman Empire — that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire — so can the same be said about the Bowl Championship Series.

It's not a bowl; it's a game played in the Superdome.

It's not a championship, just an exhibition, because the teams have been appointed to show up without earning the right to challenge for the title.

Ah, we still do the town on New Year's Eve, but tearing the goal posts down is now verboten. Deemed too dangerous. In fact, as our new year approaches, it's a good time to look back on several other things in sport that have long since faded away.

Who remembers, for example, that at the end of each inning in the field, baseball players would just chuck their gloves onto the grass behind their position, leaving the field littered with mitts. All game long.

This time last year, Phil Jackson, then the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, complained that the NBA scheduled games on Christmas Day. It seemed, he said, that "Christian holidays don't mean anything" any longer.

A few players echoed Jackson's sentiments, but the complaint died aborning. This Christmas, Sunday, the league has scheduled ... (to the tune of "The 12 Days Of Christmas"):

  • 5 gold games,
  • 4 point guards,
  • 3 referees,
  • 2 free throws,

Hear ye, hear ye: The court of public opinion will now come to order in the class-action suit by disturbed football fans against dopey football players who act like imbeciles in the end zone after scoring a touchdown.

Your honor, the plaintiffs call to the stand a man of great taste, good manners and exquisite judgment –– namely, me.

What is this?

Every now and then, as a journalist, you want to think that you haven't just done a good "story," but maybe you've actually brought attention to something that can actually do good.

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