Deford speaks on sports

By Pat Murphy

On Monday night, the Minnesota Public Radio Broadcast Journalist Series brought acclaimed sports writer and NPR commentator Frank Deford to Kagin Commons. Deford spoke to a capacity crowd about everything from the egos of some of the biggest names in sports to his uncertainty about the future of print journalism in America.”Thank you for allowing me to lower the standards of this program,” said Deford playfully when he was introduced by MPR Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer.

Deford drew laughter from the crowd when he poked fun at sports journalism.

“When you think about it, sports writing really is the easiest form of writing,” Deford said.

However, judging by his past achievements, sports writing is not something that Deford takes lightly. He was voted best sportswriter in America by his peers an astounding six times, was elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters, and was twice selected as National Magazine Writer of the Year by the Washington Journalism Review.

Deford is currently a senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated, a correspondent for HBO’s RealSports with Bryant Gumbel, and a weekly sports commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition.

“Writing always came easily to me,” said Deford, who reminisced about his earliest memories of writing and creating his own newspaper in his early teens. He always knew that he wanted to pursue a career in writing, and although he is best known for his sports journalism, Deford is a versatile writer, as evidenced by the 15 books he has authored, some of which have been turned into films and Broadway musicals.

Deford joined the ranks of Sports Illustrated in 1962 after graduating from Princeton University, where he later taught.

“I came to SI to write stories, not just to write sports,” Deford said.

Reading any piece of Deford’s work at Sports Illustrated quickly makes it apparent how well he has mastered his craft, although he won’t take all the credit for it.

“Athletes say things they shouldn’t say, which is the dream of every journalist,” said Deford in complete seriousness.

However, after practicing his trade for nearly 50 years, Deford has undoubtedly learned a thing or two about how to draw out good quotes during interviews.

“You can’t make people talk,” Deford said, “but we all have tricks. I’m not a good investigative reporter, but I am good at making people comfortable.”

Building relationships with the right people doesn’t hurt. Deford referred to the legendary -both for his success and antics-college basketball coach Bobby Knight as, “a great friend of sports writers.”

One audience member raised a question about corporate advertising in sports.

“I think the next thing that we’re going to see is like what they have in Europe with advertising all over the jerseys,” Deford said.

There were also several questions relating to big-time college athletics. Deford was not shy about making clear that he feels college athletes in big-time programs should be getting paid, since the sporting events bring in such huge dollar amounts.