Award-winning sports writer Frank Deford dies at 78

Frank Deford was a six-time Sports Writer of the Year best known for his work at Sports Illustrated and on National Public Radio.

Frank Deford, who mined the sports world for human stories and told them with literary grace over six decades in Sports Illustrated, a shelf of books and many years of radio and television commentary, died Sunday at his home in Key West, Florida. He was 78.

His wife, Carol, confirmed his death Monday but said she did not yet know the cause.

Deford retired from NPR’s “Morning Edition” on May 3, signing off with what the radio network said was his 1,656th weekly commentary since 1980. He also appeared on HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and wrote for Sports Illustrated for more than 30 years.

[A talk with sportswriting legend Frank Deford]

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At Sports Illustrated, he became a leader in a form of literary sports journalism nurtured by its managing editor, André Laguerre, who recruited him as one of a blue-ribbon roster of writers that included Mark Kram, Dan Jenkins and Roy Blount Jr. Together they made the magazine one of the most successful at Time Inc.

Deford was a six-time Sportswriter of the Year, a National Magazine Award recipient, a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame and the first sports writer to be given a National Humanities Medal, presented by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony in 2012.

“A dedicated writer and storyteller, Mr. Deford has offered a consistent, compelling voice in print and on radio, reaching beyond scores and statistics to reveal the humanity woven into the games we love,” the award citation said.

He displayed that voice — evocative, unhurried, conversational — in a 1985 profile of champion boxer Billy Conn, known as “the Pittsburgh Kid.” Titled “The Boxer and the Blonde,” the article began this way:

“The boxer and the…

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