Former Sports Illustrated Writer Frank Deford Dies at Age 78

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2017

Sportswoman of the Year Danica Patrick and presenter Frank DeFord at the March of Dimes 23rd Annual Sports Luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on November 29, 2006. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
Al Pereira/Getty Images

Legendary sports writer Frank Deford, who spent five decades as perhaps the defining voice of Sports Illustrated during the magazine's peak, died Sunday in Key West, Florida. 

He was 78.

Deford's wife Carol, confirmed news of his passing to NPR.

Deford began working at Sports Illustrated in 1962 and held the title of senior contributing writer at the time of his death. 

"I have survived so long because I've been blessed with talented and gracious colleagues, and with a top brass who let me choose my topics every week and then allowed me to express opinions that were not always popular. Well, someone had to stand up to the yackety-yak soccer cult," Deford wrote in his final NPR piece.

"And perhaps just as important, I've been blessed with you, with a broad and intelligent audience — even if large portions thereof haven't necessarily given a hoot about sports. Nothing has pleased me so much as when someone—usually a woman—writes me or tells me that she's appreciated sports more because NPR allowed me to treat sports seriously, as another branch on the tree of culture."

In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Deford the National Humanities Medal for his work in media. That year also saw him become the first magazine recipient of the Red Smith Award, handed out by the Associated Press to sports journalists for their lifetime contributions.

Deford is also the first ever sports journalist to win the National Press Foundation's W.M. Kiplinger Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism. He was a six-time Sportswriter of the Year winner, was voted to the Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame and won an Emmy in 1988.

Deford also wrote 18 books on various topics, made numerous television and radio appearances and is considered one of the most influential sportswriters in history.