For a guy whose weapon was a typewriter, Frank Deford lived a dangerous life. He gave his opinions and, on occasion, they chipped away at his legacy.
Deford has been giving sports commentaries on NPR since the Carter administration and when NPR announced in January 2016 that it was cutting his weekly commentaries to once a month, Deford was still smart enough to take the hint.
This morning, Deford delivered his final commentary for NPR.
Deford is an old man now and it matters not that he was among the best and brightest writers when there was no internet to give everyone a platform, no sports talk radio to mollify the angry bleacher bums, and no regard for women’s sports.
The day Deford “mansplained” why women’s sports get so little attention — Sept. 15, 2015, for the record — was the day Deford lost much of what 50 years writing at Sports Illustrated had built.
The commentary earned three separate corrections from NPR and a bucket load of condemnation.
“I don’t think that women have supported women’s sports enough,” he said. “I think that’s the real thing. If you have women going out to see women’s games, then that will drive the attention.”
NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen said at the time it showed NPR’s need for more diversity.
“It’s time for NPR to get even more serious about its long-stated effort to put a wider range of voices and perspectives on the air,” she said. “That Wednesday morning slot is one obvious place to make a change —- even if it’s just adding different voices to the mix.”
It was a stark suggestion for the network, famous for its Bob Edwards-Red Barber exchanges of years earlier. Red went out, his legacy intact.
On his final commentary this morning, Deford was nothing if not gracious, although there was another nod to an old stereotype.
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.
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.
Opinions are dangerous things.