Tom Sorensen

Honoring effortless, irreplaceable sportswriter Frank Deford, who transcended sports

Award-winning sports writer and commentator Frank Deford died on Sunday in Key West, Fla., his family confirmed. He was 78.
Award-winning sports writer and commentator Frank Deford died on Sunday in Key West, Fla., his family confirmed. He was 78. AP

The passing of Frank Deford Monday was sad for people touched by his words. He wrote with honor and grace for Sports Illustrated and effortlessly brought his stories to National Public Radio.

Deford, 78, died Monday at his home in Key West, Fla.

He was one of the major reasons Sports Illustrated become so popular. He could he write. He could get people to talk to him.

Deford could be tough. But he was never cheap and he was always fair. And he had the gift. He could take you wherever he was, take you to the ballpark, football field or basketball court, to the golf course, the race track or the boxing ring.

I never met him, but through his work I felt as if I knew him.

I was putting books in bookcases Sunday, sticking non-fiction in that bookcase, fiction in these two and sports books in the bookcase over there. I’m not neat. But there were too many books I had started and then rejected on the table beside the bed, and another pile of books I had finished atop a little table.

So I sorted and arranged, and in the bookcase I came across Deford’s Everybody’s All-American, which features a North Carolina football player. The book was in the fiction bookcase, not the sports bookcase. That's where it belonged since what Deford had to say transcended sports.

After Deford passed Monday, I picked up the book, the cover worn and the pages almost brittle, so I could read it again.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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