WILLIAMSTOWN -- Frank Deford talked to a crowd at Williams College on Thursday night about how the Internet has influenced what and how people read and how journalism has changed.
But in speaking in the Brooks Rogers Recital Hall, the longtime sports journalist said that, even without the Internet or social media, the firestorm over Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling would have turned into a conflagration that consumed his ownership.
"Once Donald Sterling was exposed, it didn't require social media to bring him down," Deford said before his talk. "It was such an egregious and reprehensible statement on his part, conversation on his part, that this was one time where it would have exploded if this had been 1910 or 1930."
Deford spoke at Williams to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Frank Deford Award, which is given to top Williams students who work in the Sports Information office.
Williamstown's Dylan Dethier, Ali Piltch and Kathleen Elkins were the Deford Award winners.
In addition, Ben Allison and Conor Mercadante received the Aaron Pinsky Award, given to the top student broadcasters on the Williams webcasts.
Deford has spent 50 years with Sports Illustrated and is a senior writer there. He also is a senior correspondent for the HBO program "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," and is a sports commentator for National Public Radio.
Deford was also the founder of The National, a national sports daily newspaper that lasted 18 months. Boston Herald sports columnist Steve Buckley, Boston Globe columnist Leigh Montville, ESPN Boston baseball writer Gordon Edes and current ESPN football reporter Chris Mortenson all worked for the newspaper.
"We were sort of the last print adventure, so it's hard to imagine whether we would have ever started had the Internet been there," said Deford. "Our model was USA Today. We thought we could do for sports what they did for general interest."
Current sites like Yahoo Sports and ESPN.com provide similar content and services to what The National did for 18 months in 1990 and 1991.
"The trouble is, the Internet puts newspapers out of business," said Deford. "People say that the Internet would have been great for you. I don't know. It would have made for a great product. But whether we could have made money is something else again."
In a question-and-answer session following his prepared remarks, Deford answered questions ranging from steroids in baseball to the potential unionization of college athletes. When it comes to the paying of athletes, Deford is most certainly for it.
"I'm a real radical on this subject," Deford said. "I think that the athletes are being used. I'm talking about the big-time athletes in college football and men's basketball. They are being used.
"It's sinful that a coach is making $5 million and an athletic director is making $2 and a half million, and [athletes] are going to bed hungry at night. It's un-American. It's un-democratic."