TopOfTheCircle.com

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May 29, 2017 — Frank Deford, 1938-2017

Frank Deford was a multimedia sports figure before people figured out what it was. He was an enterprise writer for Sports Illustrated for five decades, often penning the long-form pieces in the back of the weekly. He did radio commentary for National Public Radio, in a sense taking the crown of must-hear radio from Howard Cosell after the discontinuation of “Speaking of Sports” in 1992.

Deford was also afforded long-form video reporting as part of the team of journalists on HBO’s Real Sports, where his incisive interviews of Olympic officials unveiled the sewer of corruption inherent in the Olympics.

But Deford’s greatest triumph may have been found in the rubble of his greatest failure.

From February 1990 to June 1991, Deford was the managing editor of The National Sports Daily, a national tabloid newspaper which promised a daily dose of sports news, plus a long-form enterprise feature every single day in the centerfold.

The National struggled against competition from local and national print media. It also struggled to overcome obstacles in the distribution network. To be as current a paper as possible, it wanted to have dozens of print centers where late-night box scores could be inserted for a 2 a.m. print run.

Close to the end, The National wanted to start distributing its content in a different format: a dial-in entertainment and news service called CompuServe.

A quarter of a century later, the Internet distributes most sports news and related content. Many of The National’s alumni have gone over to television.

But a lot of the good writing has gone to the Internet, with sites like SportsJones, Grantland, and Deadspin pushing the bounds of the journalistic craft.

I don’t think, towards the end of his life, Frank Deford liked seeing the corporate ownership of the news media, with ESPN: The Magazine reflecting the network’s programming (an oversaturation of football, little or no hockey or auto racing, and women are seen but not heard).

I also wonder what he thought of his beloved Sports Illustrated, which seemingly gets thinner and thinner every month.

Deford, like his compatriots Howard Cosell and Tony Kornheiser, all made their mark in multiple media outlets. And as such, he was successful at most of them.

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