Sports | May 29, 2017 4:35 pm

Sports Illustrated Legend Frank Deford Dead at 78

Sports journalism icon dies just weeks after leaving NPR at end of 32-year run.

Frank Deford /Barack Obama
Barack Obama presents the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Award to Frank Deford. (Photo by Christy Bowe/Corbis via Getty Images)

Legendary Sports Illustrated writer and NPR commentator Frank Deford died on Sunday, leaving behind a legacy of longform writing that elevated his field to the equal of news magazines.  

He was 78.

Deford, who served two stints at the sports magazine (from 1962 to 1989 and from 1998), had just ended a 32-year run on NPR’s Morning Edition earlier this month.

Sports fans of a certain age may also remember Deford as the editor-in-chief of the short-lived The National, America’s first all-sports daily newspaper, which lasted from 1990 to 1991.

A six-time Sports Writer of the Year, Deford was usually given the longest “bonus” pieces in Sports Illustrated. His 1981 profile on Bobby Knight (The Rabbit Hunter) and 1985 SI profile of boxer Billy Conn (The Boxer and the Blonde) for the magazine earned their spots in David Halberstam’s The Best American Sports Writing of the Century.

In awarding DeFord with the National Humanities Medal in 2013, President Obama credited the journalist with “transforming how we think about sports.”

“Mr. Deford has offered a consistent, compelling voice in print and on radio, reaching beyond scores and statistics to reveal the humanity woven into the games we love,” said Obama.