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Interview with Frank Deford

HBO

Why do you thing Real Sports enjoys such critical success?

Frank Deford

The fact that the show is so different, I think, attracts two types of people. People who like sports but who are looking for something that's a little different a little unusual and a little offbeat. And people who really don't care that much about sports at all. I can't tell you how many times people come up to me and say you know I really don't care that much about sports, but I like Real Sports. I think that's because it goes to the soul. It goes to humanity as opposed to athleticism.

HBO

You have been with the show from the very beginning, is there one story you've covered that stands out in your mind?

Frank Deford

When Juan Antonio Samaranch said the Olympics are more important than the Catholic Church, I just couldn't believe it. I said to myself: "Don't let your expression show that he has just made a total ass of himself. Be cool, and just keep right on talking."

What was interesting about that was that after the piece was over he and his defenders accused me of picking on him because he was not familiar with the English language. Ahead of time, we had given him the choice. Would he like to speak in English or would he prefer an interpreter? And the day before the interview, when we were in Olympic headquarters, I specifically asked people: how comfortable is Mr. Samaranch with English? Oh, he's very good and comfortable, everyone said. He loves speaking English. He'd much prefer to do it that way. And then after the piece came out, and it wasn't very attractive, everybody accused me and Real Sports of sandbagging him.

HBO

What do you look for in a Real Sports story?

Frank Deford

I think every time I can find a story that touches that human nerve, and even sometimes makes you cry, I think that I've found something that I'll like very much.

HBO

Any stories that you've worked on fall into that category?

Frank Deford

I was doing a story on what was called the Miracle League, which is this wonderfully tender adventure in which people down in Georgia created a little league ballpark for handicapped kids. A blind kid was sitting on my lap. This is a boy who had never in his life seen anything, born blind. And he played baseball. And I asked him if he could sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. I don't know why in the world that popped into my mind. And the two of us started singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame together. And I'll tell you, if you didn't cry like I did at that moment, then you're a hard-hearted SOB, I'll tell you that. It's moments like that make you glad to be a journalist, besides making you glad to be a human being.

HBO

How emotional was it for you to cover the story about Andrea Yeager?

Frank Deford

Well, because I lost a daughter, eight years old, to cystic fibrosis, I think that anytime that I'm dealing with people who like Andrea Yeager are trying to help those sick children, I identify very much with them. I mean Andrea Yeager is a saint. I'm not suggesting for a moment that I'm in her company, because she has devoted her life to helping sick kids. I think having been around a sick child, I know what it's like a little bit better than other people who can only imagine that. If you're a father of a child who dies, it's an experience that never leaves you. It scars you forever and ever and ever. And so when I do any kind of story with somebody who's in the same position as my daughter was, there's no question that something comes out of me and embraces that story in a way that only a father who lost a child could.

Frank Deford