Changing of the guard at NPR

defordSo long, Frank Deford.

True, Deford will still be an NPR contributing commentator under a new lineup, but his weekly Wednesday visits to NPR’s Morning Edition are over. He’ll be on only monthly from now on, the network announced today.

Absent one break, it’s been nearly 36 years that Deford has been offering sports and life commentary.

In his last weekly appearance this morning, Deford told cities that have lost their NFL teams to “get over it.”

It was a pre-emptive attack on the coming criticism from whatever audience there is that doesn’t like change on public radio. “I hope that in these 35 years I’ve introduced some greater understanding about an institution that is merely vulgar,” he said. We think he was still talking about sports.

“NPR will now fairly enough allow other diverse voices rise above the voice of the arena,” he said. People who’ve listened to Deford for this long surely understood that the construction of the commentary was no accident, suggesting that the move wasn’t Deford’s idea.

But it had to come sooner or later because eventually the old has to be pushed aside in today’s media landscape and Deford’s time had come.

NPR’s ombudsman, Elizabeth Jensen, applauded the move which she’s called for since last summer.

This expansion of the commentator ranks is potentially a very positive move for one of NPR’s flagship programs—and it’s long overdue. As I wrote in July, the regular critic spots are one obvious place to make changes if NPR wants to realize its oft-stated goal of bringing a more diverse range of voices—and thus viewpoints—into the mix. The latest results of NPR’s self-examination into the diversity of those who appear on its air show that it is falling short of those ambitions in many respects.

Some listeners will inevitably be disappointed, as listeners often are when NPR adjusts its lineup. Deford, whose career has included work for Sports Illustrated and HBO as well as NPR, has many loyal fans and I hear from them when he misses a week. But his commentaries, particularly those that deal with soccer, have also upset many listeners in recent months. I heard from many Latinos, and one outraged 12-year-old girl, about his dismissive comments regarding soccer in this most recent one, and his Sept. 30 conversation with an NPR host needed two corrections.

NPR did not announce who the new commentator(s) will be. Presumably she’ll like soccer more.