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Deford shares stories with Harpur Forum

By : By Rachel Coker

Frank Deford, author and sports journalist, addressed the Harpur Forum during the groupís annual dinner on June 10 in the Mandela Room.
Like it or not, sports has become today’s lingua franca, journalist Frank Deford told members of the Harpur Forum during the group’s annual dinner.

“Sports is the one thing that embraces us all,” he said. Deford’s wide-ranging talk touched on topics such as Americans’ talent for teamwork and his conversations with people like Bill Russell and Paul “Bear” Bryant.

The formal event, which also included a surprise musical performance by a group called The Three Waiters, took place June 10 in the Tillman Lobby and Mandela Room of the University Union. More than 275 people attended.

Deford, the evening’s featured speaker, is a senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated as well as a commentator on HBO’s Real Sports and National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. The Princeton University graduate is the author of 14 books and several screenplays.

His speech, which brought laughter from the audience at many points, was delivered as a series of anecdotes that Deford might just as easily have been sharing with someone on a barstool next to his.

He talked about visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with Muhammad Ali (and being shocked that veterans’ families reacted positively to the boxer), filming a television commercial with football player Bubba Smith (and being amused by the way Smith frequently forgot his lines) and interviewing Billie Jean King (and comparing his high school basketball achievements to her Wimbledon victories).

Deford also shared a couple of personal confessions. He doesn’t play golf, he said, though he’s fascinated by golfers. Boxing is the only sport he actively dislikes, though he did mock soccer a bit as well.

At times, Deford grew more philosophical as he talked about the role of sports in society.

Soon, women will make up more than 60 percent of the U.S. college student population, Deford noted.

He wondered aloud whether part of the problem is the way boys are distracted by athletics to the detriment of their schoolwork. He said he’s interested to see what happens as women who have grown up playing team sports cement those skills as college athletes and then go on to the workplace.

He speculated that men learn how to care about each other through team experiences, while women seem to make better friends of each other even without that.

However it develops, Deford places great importance on this sense of teamwork, which he believes is truly entrenched in our culture. Americans, he said, balance the individual and the group better than people from anywhere else.

“We learn to do things together this way, on teams,” he said of Americans.

If Good-Bye Mr. Chips were set in the United States, the main character would be a coach, not a teacher, Deford said. Deford said his all-time favorite story involved the 1990 soccer World Cup. He watched Cameroon play in the quarterfinals, not from the stands in Italy, but on a television screen along with fans in the African nation. When Cameroon scored the first goal, a woman jumped up and danced with him.

Deford said: “I really never understood the power of sports until that moment.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08