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There may have been Memorial Day barbecues on backyard decks dedicated to Frank Deford, since he probably paid for a few.
Deford, a legendary writer for Sports Illustrated (and for a time Vanity Fair), died this weekend. His writing is the primary catalyst for obituaries but a brief 16 months as editor of the National, a valiant but doomed attempt at a national sports daily, is also part of his legacy.
He was the star writer at Sports Illustrated when lured by a Mexican media mogul to be editor and gregarious public face of The National, which was launched Jan. 31, 1990 in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
It assembled an all-star staff, including high-ranking sports editors from The Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Chicago Tribune and well-known columnists from the New York Daily News and Los Angeles Times.
Deford prompted what, for a period, was a blessed salary inflation in newspaper journalism by hiring lots of people for $100,000 to $300,000. It was not uncommon that reporters, columnists and editors obtained very quick raises by merely claiming Deford had left a phone message.
It was 75 cents and glossy but bedeviled quickly by various editorial misjudgments (such as the belief it could compete on local sports with big local papers) and both technological and distribution problems (including no home delivery).
When the axe came, circulation at the 300-person operation had never gone above 240,000 and the notion of a weekly edition went by the wayside after the various key executives had been canned. There was increased competition, too, via a redesigned Sporting News and Gannett, publisher of USA Today, starting a baseball weekly.
But I remember talking to him early and his saying, “I signed a five-year contract. This is a sabbatical, a change in my life. When it’s over, I’ll be back writing.”
But the National will inevitably be a footnote to a career that inspired such comments as these:
Neil Leifer, a longtime Time Inc. photographer: “Frank Deford was not only a great writer but much more importantly he was a truly great human being. We were very close friends for over 40 years, and I’m going to miss him.”
Keith Olbermann: “Obviously Frank’s extraordinarily consistent, smooth writing still speaks so superbly for itself and will speak for him forever. But the man himself was even better. If you had worked for CNN New York in the 1981-84 era when we didn’t have enough of a budget to have a full-time receptionist at the front door, you would never have known from how he conducted himself that Frank was the most successful journalist by a factor of a thousand to be a regular in the newsroom.”
“He knew everybody, treated the punk kid sports reporter as an equal, regularly asked for advice (even about his own scripts) — and chipped in like the rest of us opening the front door.”
Walter Iooss, longtime great Sports Illustrated photographer: “How sad I am. Frank and I met at Sports Illustrated in 1962. He was fresh out of Princeton University. In 1963, we spent a month covering spring training in Florida for Sports Illustrated. Two kids on their first big assignment. He will always be a part of my sports memories. R.I.P. my friend. I’ll wear something purple for you. That was Frank’s favorite color.”
Dan McGrath, former sports editor, Chicago Tribune: “Frank commanded such universal respect as a sports journalist that a lot of people were drawn to The National by the opportunity to work for him. He was a great boss, too, a wonderful guy to work for, always supportive, encouraging and open-minded.”
“He never big-timed anybody, never second-guessed us, even if a well-meaning idea turned out to be a little too off the wall. It was a short-lived venture, but I believe most of us would do it again. The National’s demise had nothing to do with the quality of the product, which bore Frank’s imprint from day one.”
Was Deford, whose attire could be Runyonesque (a la “Guys and Dolls”) revered in all quarters? No. Some found him a bit too precious for their liking and not the same caliber of some famous S.I. colleagues, notably Dan Jenkins.
But he was certainly droll amid the National debacle. I remember popping in on him after he’d spied three men, possibly, homeless and hawking the paper along 8th Avenue in Manhattan presumably after appropriating them from elsewhere.
They were not “part of our elite distribution force,” he said, then indicating that the early theft rate in Los Angeles was nearly 40 percent.
Tiger Woods’ DUI
Writing in Golf Magazine, Michael Bamberger opines on the man who says it wasn’t booze, but a mix-up with prescription drugs that led to that sad-eyed, bloated looking mugshot:
“Every chance he gets, Woods talks about the role he plays in the life of his son and daughter and what it means to him. It’s moving and telling. But few 41-year-old men want to be a full-time dad and nothing else. Woods used to have golf to fill his time, to give him drive, to let him exercise his vast competitive urge. For now, anyway, he doesn’t. Still, the time must be filled. Tiger Woods faces the challenge we all do: how to fill that time productively. The answer to that difficult question for him now seems more pressing.”
Simmons moves to Vox Media
This might have been Frank Deford if born 30 years later. “Bill Simmons is taking another step on his winding path through the annals of sports journalism. The internet iconoclast has signed a deal to move his sports and culture website, the Ringer, off Medium and onto Vox Media’s platform.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“While Mr. Simmons will maintain ownership of the site he launched last summer, the Ringer will become part of the portfolio of brands Vox offers to marketers alongside its own properties like SB Nation, the Verge and Eater.”
“The stigma of drinking wine-by-can is officially gone. Canned varieties still represent a small portion of total wine sales, but sales volume grew by 231 percent in the 52 weeks ending April 22, according to Nielsen data cited by Guarachi Wine Partners, which owns a wine brand called Surf Swim. Convenience is a major factor giving rise to offerings like Surf Swim’s new canned chardonnay.” (Ad Age)
Were you working yesterday when you didn’t have to?
“More than half of all U.S. employees (54 percent) didn’t use all their days off last year, working a combined total of 662 million more days than required.” (Quartz)
R-rated quoted of the holiday weekend
“This is a place where people don’t give a flying fuck what they do with their minds and bodies.”
This comes from Dr. Molly Maloof whose “concierge medicine practice in San Francisco” is tailored to “engineers and executives looking to hit peak performance, or recover from an over-stressed work-life. Maloof, who earned her medical degree from the University in Illinois in 2011, sees part of her work as ensuring they are doing it safely, backed up by the maximum amount of evidence.” (Quartz)
A surfer-artist passes away
He wasn’t Frank Deford famous, but John Severson made a mark with what some deem the first serious surfing magazine, Surfer. He was an eclectic fellow, as Surfline notes in a tribute upon his passing:
“John Severson is best remembered as the founder of Surfer, but before he was a publisher, John made his mark in surf movies, playing a major role in elevating the medium to new levels of action, humor and drama.”
“Born and raised in Pasadena and San Clemente, California, Severson was a creative type, an art major who dared to paint an abstract scene of the San Clemente Pier and beach, with bebop surfers and pointy little surfboards. It was the fall of 1955 — a pivotal day for surf culture. You could say it was the start of surf art.”
An apology in Denver
A Denver Post sportswriter tweeted that he was “very uncomfortable” with a Japanese driver winning the Indy 500. There was lots of negative response, and he tweeted an apology, but it was too late.
“We apologize for the disrespectful and unacceptable tweet that was sent by one of our reporters. Terry Frei is no longer an employee of The Denver Post. It’s our policy not to comment further on personnel issues.” (Denver Post)
“The tweet doesn’t represent what we believe nor what we stand for. We hope you will accept our profound apologies — Mac Tully and Lee Ann Colacioppo.”
If you didn’t make it to Cannes
The BBC offers its 10 biggest takeaways from the film festival. One of them includes this tidbit:
“Booing Netflix’s logo when it appeared in a film’s opening credits became a bit of a running joke throughout the festival — although initial reports of jeers at a screening of Bong Joon-ho’s Okja were misattributed. Although there were some boos (as well as counterbalancing cheers) for the streaming giant, the audience’s main beef was that the film was being shown in the wrong aspect ratio and no-one could read the subtitles.”
Ailes’ target viewer
Tobin Smith, an investment newsletter writer and former longtime Fox pundit, claims a conversation long ago with Roger Ailes in which first asked about Ailes’ target viewer.
“’Toby…I created a TV network for people 55 to dead,’ Ailes said.”
What did the viewer look like?
“They look like me…White guys in mostly red state counties who sit on their couch with the remote in their hand all day and night.”
What were their viewing expectations?
“They want to see you tear those smug condescending know-it-all East Coast liberals to pieces…limb by limb…until they jump up out of their La-Z-Boy and scream “Way to go Toby…you killed that libtard!” (Medium)
Opioids in West Virginia
There’s been a lot written about drug addiction in West Virginia, but Margaret Talbot really does add to the literature with a melancholy piece in The New Yorker that includes small-town newspaper publisher Michael Chalmers explaining the roots of the problem in Martinsburg:
“In my opinion, the desperation in the (Eastern) Panhandle, and places like it, is a social vacancy. People don’t feel they have a purpose.”
Many drug addicts seek “to escape the reality that this place doesn’t give them anything…That’s really hard to live with — when you look around and you see that seven out of 10 of your friends from high school are still here, and nobody makes more than $36,000 a year, and everybody’s just bitching about bills and watching these crazy shows on reality TV and not doing anything.”
“Fox & Friends” said “the mainstream media got it all wrong” on Jared Kushner’s dealing with the Russians, claiming it was the Russians suggested just one backchannel call on Syria. Along the way it aped the Donald Trump construction of “the failing New York Times” and then quoted colleague Abby Huntsman over the weekend as asserting there’s no difference between the National Enquirer and The Washington Post when it comes to sourcing. Puhleese, guys.
CNN’s “New Day” discussed the Kushner outreach, with David Gregory finding the Trump folks naive and exhibiting hubris in thinking they could deal with the Russians. More notable was its focus group with Trump supporters who maintain their backing, saying it’s too early to criticize him. Co-host Chris Cuomo was unconvinced, even suggesting later they just didn’t want to process bad news.
“Morning Joe” called Trump’s foreign trip a disaster. “It was bad enough to not explicitly say he was committed to the mutual defense pact,” said Andrea Mitchell. “You could hear the tectonic plates of history move,” said foreign policy observer Richard Haass.
In search for revenue, the Los Angeles Times offers a “One Day University: Hamilton vs. Jefferson” with Rutgers professor Louis Masur on the UCLA campus. “Full price $99, First 90 Readers only $79.” What a deal! (Los Angeles Times)
Maybe they’ll throw in a plastic glass of chardonnay and cheddar cheese cubes. If they were the president, they’d morph this into a real estate training program and maybe call it Times University.
Lost on Trump’s foreign trip
Yes, there was the non hand-clasp thing with Melania, pushing the Montenegro guy and insulting allies. But, also this: “Sad and lonely from the diplomatic trip that has kept him thousands of miles away from his private estate for almost a week, a homesick Donald Trump stayed up all night on the phone with the automated Mar-a-Lago reservations line.”
Thanks to The Onion for that scoop. Maybe it would be safer for Tiger Woods to stay home and do same.