Changing of the guard at NPR

defordSo long, Frank Deford.

True, Deford will still be an NPR contributing commentator under a new lineup, but his weekly Wednesday visits to NPR’s Morning Edition are over. He’ll be on only monthly from now on, the network announced today.

Absent one break, it’s been nearly 36 years that Deford has been offering sports and life commentary.

In his last weekly appearance this morning, Deford told cities that have lost their NFL teams to “get over it.”

It was a pre-emptive attack on the coming criticism from whatever audience there is that doesn’t like change on public radio. “I hope that in these 35 years I’ve introduced some greater understanding about an institution that is merely vulgar,” he said. We think he was still talking about sports.

“NPR will now fairly enough allow other diverse voices rise above the voice of the arena,” he said. People who’ve listened to Deford for this long surely understood that the construction of the commentary was no accident, suggesting that the move wasn’t Deford’s idea.

But it had to come sooner or later because eventually the old has to be pushed aside in today’s media landscape and Deford’s time had come.

NPR’s ombudsman, Elizabeth Jensen, applauded the move which she’s called for since last summer.

This expansion of the commentator ranks is potentially a very positive move for one of NPR’s flagship programs—and it’s long overdue. As I wrote in July, the regular critic spots are one obvious place to make changes if NPR wants to realize its oft-stated goal of bringing a more diverse range of voices—and thus viewpoints—into the mix. The latest results of NPR’s self-examination into the diversity of those who appear on its air show that it is falling short of those ambitions in many respects.

Some listeners will inevitably be disappointed, as listeners often are when NPR adjusts its lineup. Deford, whose career has included work for Sports Illustrated and HBO as well as NPR, has many loyal fans and I hear from them when he misses a week. But his commentaries, particularly those that deal with soccer, have also upset many listeners in recent months. I heard from many Latinos, and one outraged 12-year-old girl, about his dismissive comments regarding soccer in this most recent one, and his Sept. 30 conversation with an NPR host needed two corrections.

NPR did not announce who the new commentator(s) will be. Presumably she’ll like soccer more.

  • Jack

    Times change whether we like it or not.

  • MrE85

    Thirty-six years on the job should be enough. Time to go fishing and visit the grandkids, Frank.

  • Gary F

    Look at those sideburns! Oh, my! They could have come in handy the last couple of days with the weather we had.

  • BJ

    Yeah I heard his soccer rant and cringed at his lack of understanding about the beautiful game. Comments about size and FIFA were so uneducated it hurt to listen to.

  • Jim in RF

    I’m sure he is a very nice guy, but I won’t miss hearing him in the morning. He sounded like a Reusse/grandpa combination 15 years ago, and it hasn’t improved.

    Who would I prefer: Charlie Pierce, John Moe (white guys), Robert Smith (ex-vike, not white), maybe even a righty like Michelle Tafoya

    • I kind of hope it won’t be a retread from somewhere else. Maybe a NEW voice that we’ve not heard before.

  • MikeB

    Here’s hoping other fixed spots will be opened up as well

  • fromthesidelines21

    I always liked his commentary. The contrast to most other sports coverage was refreshing. I also don’t think he should have to apologize for hi opinion of soccer, and it is unfortunate to think that it may have played a role in him having a reduced role. He is paid for his commentary and we shouldn’t expect to agree with it all the time.

    Personally, I like Soccer and might watch a few minutes every 4 years during the WC. But can they please find a way to score more. The net is 8’x20′ for crying out loud!

    • Disclaimer

      And what’s with those baseball players making so many outs?!? They only get hits like 27.3% of the time!!!

      C’mon man. He didn’t get fired because he didn’t like soccer. He got fired because he’s an old curmudgeon who doesn’t like anything that’s chanced since 1972.

      • fromthesidelines21

        I’ve never until it was suggested today that Mr. Deford was a curmudgeon (aka Reuse/Sid). I just think of him like a throwback like the classic baseball announcers. Maybe it is because I’m approaching 40 and sit between generations. I haven’t been able to watch sportscenter for 15 years since I apparently aged out of their demographic.

        While I like Deford’s style I agree that adding new voices is a good thing.

        • Disclaimer

          Yeah, but you can be a throwback without attacking things that are new or different. Among soccer fans in the US, Deford had really become a running joke. Any time any he came on to talk about soccer it was inevitably negative and very frequently off base.

          He literally came on in September to talk about the lack of a women’s pro soccer league in the US – 24 hours before the national women’s pro league played their championship game.

          He couldn’t even be bothered to Google whether there was a pro league or not! That’s just embarrassing.

          • We live in a world now, though, where we insist that our choices be validated by those around us. I’m not entirely convinced the age of commentaries hasn’t passed us by.

            I think also that they can make show producers lazy as certain segments are automatically filled by the ‘regulars’. I can’t say I’m a big fan of regular segments on any news shows.

          • Disclaimer

            It’s got nothing to do with being validated. It has to do with being accurate. If Deford can’t get basic facts about his subject matter right he’s got no business being on the air.

          • Right. I get that. But that’s independent of the fact we want our views reflected. We don’t want commentators on the air who say something with which we disagree. We just don’t. In that environment, there’s little value in the commentary, especially if there isn’t a forum to debate it.

            And that’s the problem I have with radio commentaries in general, they don’t start a discussion because there’s no discussion.

            Also, if you’re going to have a radio network with commentaries, you might want to have some halfway decent editing of material someone hands you before you put it on the radio. That didn’t happen in this case, and Deford at the time said one solution might be too write the commentaries out in advance.

            Say whaaaaat? NPR doesn’t require commentaries be submitted for editing in advance? That’s absurd.

          • Angry Jonny

            I imagine there’s not much love for Paul Harvey, then. At least I’ve got my Bose Acoustic Wave Radio.

          • fromthesidelines21

            He certainly should have his facts straight if he is going to share his opinion on a fairly large platform, especially if it is a negative critique.

            I admit I did not know until now that there was a women’s pro soccer league. But that doesn’t mean much since I keep forgetting that the NBA exists. I heard there is a team called the Pelicans now. Weird.

          • Disclaimer

            Oh, lots of people don’t know about it. They only get a handful of games on TV. I don’t expect most people to know about it. But I do expect a professional sports journalist who appears weekly on a major platform to know about it, or at least to get an intern to do some basic research for him before commenting.

          • BJ

            I remember that one as well!!

    • ec99

      I enjoy soccer. I coached it at the youth level and my son is a high school coach. It may have gained ground in the US, principally due to the success of the women’s national team, but it will never become a major attraction. The dearth of scoring has much to do with it. The same thing plagued hockey, causing goalies to have to eschew their twin mattress leg pads, with even some talk of enlarging the goal in response to the 6’4″-6’6″ net minders.

      • Disclaimer

        Eh, “never” is a long time from now. In 1950 the 3 most popular sports in the US were baseball, boxing and horse racing. Tastes change. Demographics change. None of us really know what the sports landscape will be in 2050.

      • wjc

        Over the last few years, European football’s (can’t say the “s”-word) popularity has soared since there is consistent and high quality coverage on TV via NBC, FOX and ESPN.

        The increasing popularity of MLS is in part due to the better Premier League coverage, not just a 4-year World Cup cycle. More people can watch and understand the beautiful game. This year you can even watch weekly German Bundesliga games on Fox.

        I have 2 FA Cup (England) matches being recorded this afternoon. I love it. I have even seen some poor misguided folks walking around in Chelsea shirts. Go Manchester United!

        • BJ

          Uck, the Blues and Red Devils be damned!

          Go Lillywhites, Come On You Spurs!

  • I’ve never been much of a fan of Deford’s work. I’m looking forward to the change.

  • Brian Simon

    American public media could follow this example. The marketplace host seems to think we need his self referential attempts at amusement peppered through the broadcast (we don’t ). And last week one episode of this show on the focused almost exclusively on the golden globes & their impact on the Oscars. Thanks a lot for that stunning insight (not).

    • What example? Getting rid of old-timers? Ummmmm….

  • Angry Jonny

    Wow. Frank Deford looks exactly like what I imagined a Frank Deford would look like.

  • Mike Worcester

    I’ve always enjoyed Deford’s commentaries (or as I like to call them, opinion pieces for the air). He is certainly one perspective and should not be shunted to the side solely because he offended futball (sorry, soccer) fans. He certainly can be one of many voices. Nothing wrong with that.

    As for his dislike of soccer, I’d say that is as much generational as anything. Would NPR have allowed a rebuttal to his comments on the sport? For the sake of balance?

  • KenB

    NPR’s ombudsman said cutting Deford’s commentaries is “long overdue”. Three minutes once a week? Instead of cutting him, why not add other commentators for three minutes a week?

    • Disclaimer

      Honestly, I think the problem was probably that his segments just weren’t very popular among their listeners any more. If the only people who had a problem with him were soccer fans, NPR wouldn’t really care.

  • Ohio

    I actually have no idea how Frank Deford lasted this long. Putting aside his outright disdain of soccer, he often said things that were unequivocally sexist and backward. He blamed low attendance at WNBA games on a lack of female spectators, and lamented the modern man’s responsibilities in the home–Complaining changing diapers distracted from hours needed on the golf greens, and resulted in the American golf world’s failing efforts against European players. In fact, lamentation was a theme of Frank’s. Lamenting a world gone by where men played good ol’ stick and ball games after work before coming home to warm dinner on the table.