It’s not every week that one of your heroes died, one of the men who made you want to dedicate your life to moving people with the written word, and bringing them to anger or great joy just from a few beautifully-crafted paragraphs.
Frank Deford passed away Sunday night at the age of 78, and I only wish I had half the talent of this incredibly gifted writer to tell you about him in as sparkling prose as he wrote.
Deford, if you’re not familiar with him, was a legendary sportswriter, broadcaster and NPR commentator over the past five decades. He penned some of the best articles in Sports Illustrated history, including this classic on Jimmy Connors, and this one on Bobby Knight.
He wrote many best-selling books, including an excruciating one called “Alex, The Life of a Child,” about his 8-year-old daughter Alexandra who died of cystic fibrosis. Deford was a 20-year contributor to HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” program, changing the lives of so many with his heartfelt stories (including one that introduced me to the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a story that would change my life).
And Deford, for 37 years, gave weekly commentaries on NPR that were eloquent, funny, and always made you think. So many people I’ve met over the years, non-sports fans, knew him only as “that gravel-voiced guy from NPR.”
And oh yeah, in 1990 Deford started the greatest newspaper that ever was, the all-sports “The National,” a wonderful idea that sadly only lasted 18 months but was loved by 15-year-old me, and many others.
For me, Deford was always an idol since I discovered him in SI. His beautiful prose, his ability to truly get inside a subject’s head, was remarkable. Here’s just one example of his great writing, from his famous 1999 piece on Celtics legend Bill Russell.
It was 30 years ago, and the car containing the old retired basketball player and the young sportswriter stopped at a traffic light on the way to the airport in Los Angeles. (Of course, in the nature of things, old players aren’t that much older than young writers.) The old player said, “I’m sorry, I’d like to be your friend.”
The young writer said, “But I thought we were friends.”
“No, I’d like to be your friend, and we can be friendly, but friendship takes a lot of effort if it’s going to work, and we’re going off in different directions in our lives, so, no, we really can’t be friends.”
And that was as close as I ever got to being on Bill Russell’s team.
I mean… that’s just freaking perfect. I could never get close to that but I sure as heck tried.
And here’s the thing: Deford was as great a human being as he was a writer. Kind to everyone, famous or not, gracious and humble and always elegant, there isn’t anyone out there with a negative story about him and how he treated them. But there are thousands of kind remembrances of when Deford wrote back to a college kid who was an aspiring writer, or helped so many families whose lives were devastated by CF like his was.
He was one of a kind, and I miss him already. To paraphrase another legendary writer, Jimmy Cannon talking about boxer Joe Louis: Frank Deford was a credit to his race … the human race.
I urge you to read these two tributes to Frank: First, from Charlie Pierce, on Deford’s humanity in the face of Alex’s death, and second from Joe Posnanski, on why Deford inspired him and so many others.
We lost a great one.
**Next up today, I thought this was a very different and interesting advertisement. It’s a three-minute commercial created by global marketing company Zain to air during Ramadan in the Middle East.
The ad, which has been viewed over 3.5 million times since it was released five days ago, features people of many nationalities trying to convince a suicide bomber not to carry out an attack, with many different kinds of appeals offered.
And the last 30 seconds, such a hopeful message. This was really, really interesting. I would love to see it get some attention here in America, where sadly too many people think all Muslims are terrorists…
**Finally today, I thought this was interesting: A new study by researchers out of Atlanta found that fathers’ brains respond to daughters differently than they do to sons.
The research took a look at whether the different ways fathers treat sons or daughters may be influenced by different brain responses to male or female children. Emory University and University of Arizona researchers took their study out of the laboratory and used a sample with real-life situations, the APA said.
“If the child cries out or asks for Dad, fathers of daughters responded to that more than did fathers of sons,” said lead researcher Jennifer Mascaro of Emory University.
I can’t compare totally because I’m only a father of a son so far, but I can definitely see these results being true. I struggle almost daily with how much to let my son, after falling, get himself up and stop crying on his own, and how much to rush over and make him feel better and act like it was a huge deal that he scraped his knee.
I want my boy to grow up tough and not get upset over every little thing, but I also don’t want to callously let him think I don’t care when he falls. It’s a very fine line, and apparently I’m not the only Dad who feels that way.