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Let’s be Frank

Frank Deford jumps from sports to novels to NPR (and back).

Daily Depth on a Dime


I lie on my side at the edge of a muddy orange grove only 20 yards from the Rio Grande. Low-hanging tree branches hide me from the men on the riverbank, men I fear carry guns and drugs. I am within 10 feet of their white truck now. After a slow 50-yard zigzag on my belly, I wrap my body around the base of a tree to hide my heat stamp – just as my chaperones suggested. I peer through night-vision goggles toward the riverside commotion. Did they hear my knee pop as I adjusted in the soil?

Chasing Myself on the Rodeo Circuit


When she was young, my mother was a rodeo girl. She came by it honestly. She grew up in rodeo country. Farmers and stockmen dominated the economy. Riding and roping were respected skills. Weekend jackpot rodeos, held at makeshift arenas on area ranches and farms, gave locals the opportunity to show off their roping talents or their mastery of bucking horses and bulls, throwing their entry money into a borrow hat. Small-town kids who did well enough jackpotting could graduate to professional rodeos. If their luck broke just right, they could move up to the big time: Cheyenne, Calgary and Pendleton. There, they could compete against the likes of Casey Tibbs and Jim Shoulders, the sport’s superstars during the 1950s.

Tracy’s Great Escape


Tracy Ross hikes up the knee-high steps of a winding trail toward the top of Mount Sanitas in the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. She aims her gaze at the ground ahead of her feet. Muscle memory takes control, making the split second decisions that navigate her feet through the rocks and narrow crevices.

Willie & Willette


Seven years ago this month, I was shopping at a used bookstore in Chicago when I found a copy of Philip Dray’s At the Hands of Persons Unknown, his 2002 history of lynching in the United States. Flipping through it, I came across a brief recap of a court case I’d first heard about in 1979, when I was a student at Vanderbilt: the trial and execution of Willie McGee, a 35-year-old African-American man from Laurel, Mississippi, who was electrocuted in 1951 for the rape of a white housewife named Willette Hawkins.

Inside Outside


Inside the dimly lit backroom of The Cowgirl BBQ restaurant, country singer Toby Keith laments “I shoulda been a cowboy” to the midweek crowd at the bar. It’s a Wednesday night like many others in Santa Fe: Day laborers smoke cheap cigarettes while gray-haired tourists munch on stale tortilla chips. A crew of 20-somethings strides through the open door wearing bright North Face fleece, relaxed jeans and dust-kicked trail shoes. The interns of Outside magazine are thirsty for a cocktail after a hard day bumping elbows with editors and sorting through piles of cutting-edge outdoor gear.

Deep Dive


My muse is the ocean, which means I’m engaged in immersion journalism, literally. Both of my books – The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean and The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks – required reporting when wet; much time on sailboats and Jet Skis and surfboards and research vessels, underwater, in the water, and on deck, wearing bathing suits and wetsuits and a special armored flotation vest that might have helped me survive a tumble on, say, a 70-foot wave. Or not.


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