McGarr Symposium on Sports and Society
Award-winning sportswriter Frank Deford and Washington Post associate editor David Maraniss speak
The University of Texas at Austin College of Communication's Texas Program in Sports and Media (TPSM) hosted presentations by award-winning sportswriter Frank Deford and David Maraniss, an associate editor at The Washington Post during the week of April 23.
Deford and Maraniss' presentations were part of TPSM’s McGarr Symposium on Sports and Society, which hosts discussions by sports media professionals about cultural issues related to sports.
At "An Evening with Frank Deford" on April 25, Deford and Sports Illustrated executive editor Terry McDonell discussed Deford's memoir, "Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter," as well as changes in sports, journalism and society.
After he graduated from Princeton University and joined the Sports Illustrated staff in the 1960s, Deford said he became fascinated by the social and political stories surrounding sports.
When asked about which American athletes were most influential, Deford mentioned Jackie Robinson, who broke the Major League Baseball racial barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and Billie Jean King, a world-renowned tennis player who furthered the women’s movement by defeating Bobby Riggs in 1973. Deford helped King write her autobiography in the 1980s.
Acknowledging that the media landscape has changed drastically, Deford said his basic advice to aspiring media professionals remains the same.
"Writing – it's easy to define who's good at it," Deford said. "It's tougher to prove you're a good salesman, dentist, etc. If you can write, someone will give you a job and you can succeed at it."
He also encouraged students to persevere through writer's block.
"I've met a great many writers who were not natural writers," Deford said. "There were a lot of people who didn't get that key and had to bang their way in. And then they ended up writing a lot better than those who originally had the keys."
Deford has received several honors, including the Associated Press Sports Editors' 2012 Red Smith Award and the Washington Journalism Review's Magazine Writer of the Year award. The National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters named him to its Hall of Fame, and the American Journalism Review cited him as the nation's finest sportswriter.
On the radio, Deford serves as a commentator every Wednesday on NPR's "Morning Edition" and, on television, he is the senior correspondent on the HBO show "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel." In magazines, he is senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated – where two College of Communication students intern.
Two of Deford's books – the novel, "Everybody's All-American" and "Alex: The Life Of A Child," his memoir about his daughter who died of cystic fibrosis – have been made into movies.
At the Frank Deford Lecture in Sports Journalism on April 26, David Maraniss, an associate editor at The Washington Post, spoke about the future of journalism, the importance of sports in establishing identities and connections and his book, "Barack Obama: The Story."
With the public clamoring over trivialities rather than reading policy stories, Maraniss said editors often make a pragmatic decision to run lightweight stories. He also said that though social media has changed the way stories are told, the human need for storytelling will never go away.
He also urged writers to study how sports and society are interconnected. Political writers often use sports and military metaphors, Maraniss said, while sports writers often use military and political metaphors.
Emphasizing how important it is for journalists to establish rapport with their sources, Maraniss gave an example of how sports helped him connect with President Obama.
Knowing that Obama is a Bears fan, Maraniss – a Packers fan – chatted with him about the Bears versus Packers rivalry. They talked about how Obama vowed to attend the 2011 Superbowl if the Packers won, and about how Packers team ended up visiting the White House after they won the Superbowl.
"He said, 'The Packers give me a hard time,'" Maraniss said, adding that Wisconsinites often give Obama Packers uniforms on his visit to the swing state. "I said, 'Deservedly so, you're a Bears fan.' Just that little exchange, as trivial as it was – that opened it up."
Maraniss also spoke about how President Obama found his sense of self through basketball when he was growing up in Hawaii.
"The team he played on was terrific," Maraniss said. "A varsity Division I team… probably one of the best basketball teams in the nation. Just to make the team was quite a statement."
Maraniss has written the following five critically-acclaimed and bestselling books: "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi," "First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton," "They Marched Into Sunlight – War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967," "Clemente – The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero" and "Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics That Stirred the World."
Maraniss is a three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, winning in 1993 for national reporting in his coverage of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton. He also was part of The Washington Post team that won a 2008 Pulitzer for the newspaper's coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting.
Maraniss has received the George Polk Award, the Dirksen Prize for Congressional Reporting, the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Laventhol Prize for Deadline Writing and the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize.
Laura Byerley, (512) 471-2182