Today, we mourn the loss of one of the best, if not THE BEST in the writing business. Frank Deford passed away today, at the age of 78 years old. The legendary sportswriter spent more than 50 years as a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated. He wrote some of the greatest features this industry has ever seen. Simply put, he was a giant in the sports world and will never be replaced.
Deford graduated from Princeton in 1962 and started his career doing research for Sports Illustrated. He worked for CNN and was also a key contributor to HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel while continuing to work for SI throughout his long career.
Deford’s sensibility and detail made him not just a great sportswriter, but one of America’s greatest storytellers. Flip through his vast catalog of work, and you will see why. His feature on Bob Knight from 1981 is a favorite of many. His story on boxer Billy Conn from 1985 is also phenomenal. There are countless other tomes and all-time great pieces in his archive.
Deford wrote two books that became movies. The 1988 film of his novel Everybody’s All-American starred Jessica Lange, Dennis Quaid, and Timothy Hutton. The book centers on a Louisiana football player trying to find his role in life after his college career ends. Alex: The Life of a Child, his memoir about his daughter’s battle with Cystic Fibrosis, became a TV movie with Craig T. Nelson as Deford. The film’s script earned an Emmy nomination in 1986. Deford also wrote many screenplays. Trading Hearts is a 1988 sports movie starring future pop singer Jenny Lewis. He worked on several sports documentaries during his career, most recently 2008’s Barbaro. He also wrote 2003’s Rebels of Oakland: The A’s, the Raiders, the ’70s.
A six-time U.S. Sportswriter of the Year and a two-time Magazine Writer of the Year, Deford’s name will remain synonymous with excellence. Back in 2012, President Barack Obama honored Deford with a National Humanities Medal. According to the White House, Deford was honored for “transforming how we think about sports.” He was one of America’s truly great writers, and we mourn the loss of him today.