When acclaimed sportswriter Frank Deford stands before President Obama to accept a National Humanities Medal at the White House on Wednesday, he won't have to summon any of the skills that have garnered him praise during a 50-year career.
Deford will only have to stick out his neck.
"Luckily I don't have to say anything. All I have to do is stand and present my neck, to have the president wrap a medal around my neck, so that's pretty easy to do. I think even I can manage that," Deford, 74, told Westport News on Monday.
Deford, a longtime Sports Illustrated contributor who lived in Westport for more than 38 years, was in the midst of moving to New York City in the spring when he received word that he was going to be honored with the National Humanities Medal.
"Obviously I was astonished. This isn't something you expect or that anybody expects. It came completely out of the blue. I was taken aback," Deford said. "We were in the process of moving from Westport at that time and the house was a mess. The trauma of moving and everything, it was an extraordinary moment."
The citation, which will be read by Obama during the medal presentation, credits Deford "for transforming how we think about sports. A dedicated writer and storyteller, 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."
At the same White House ceremony, the president will also present the National Medal of Arts to 12 recipients, including film director/producer George Lucas, plawright Tony Kushner and opera singer Renee Fleming.
Over the course of a half-century in sports journalism and commentary, Deford wrote extensively for Sports Illustrated; has been heard regularly on National Public Radio, and appeared on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."
A 1962 graduate of Princeton University, Deford began his career as a researcher at Sports Illustrated. He has been named National Sportswriter of the Year six times and is a member of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He won a 1988 Emmy Award for his writing on the Seoul Olympics and a 1994 CableAce Award for a documentary on tennis great and close friend Arthur Ashe.
He also served as editor in chief of The National Sports Daily, the first daily newspaper dedicated solely to sports, which published for 18 months in 1990 and 1991.
Deford discusses sports each Wednesday on NPR, contributes to "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" on HBO, and remains a contributing writer to Sports Illustrated, though he rarely writes for the publication.
"Mostly my life right now is writing for NPR and writing my (next) novel," he said.
He has written 18 books, including several novels that are not related to sports. He is currently working on a post-World War II novel that he described as a family saga. He said he wanted to write fiction again after last year's publication of his memoir, "Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter."
"I wanted to get away from everything that had to do with me and everything that had to do with sports and sportswriting," he said.
Deford, who enjoys reading novels and history, said a varied career worked best for him, though he wouldn't necessarily recommend it to others.
"I know that I could not have remained a sportswriter if I hadn't jumped all around. I would have lost interest. And I didn't have the consuming interest to be an expert in a sport. So it was best for me to jump around, but I think everyone is different in that regard."