Saturday Sports: Super Bowl; NBA and WNBA drafts; Olympics controversy
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Now it's time for sports.
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SIMON: Just 36 hours until Puppy Bowl 2023. A football game follows. LeBron James makes history. And an Olympics controversy more than a year before the Paris Games open. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us.
Tom, thanks so much for being with us.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.
SIMON: Kansas City vs. Philadelphia tomorrow - the first Super Bowl starring two Black starting quarterbacks. Help us appreciate the moment and these two athletes, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts.
GOLDMAN: Well, it's a moment we're celebrating - two supremely skilled quarterbacks, you know? But the reality is in today's NFL, Kansas City's Mahomes, Philly's Hurts are just two of a number of Black quarterbacks who, every week, destroy old stereotypes that Black athletes didn't have the smarts or leadership qualities or passing ability to be a quarterback. And a lot of great athletes missed out because of that. Having this first-ever moment of two Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl puts a fine point on the absurdity of that thinking. Now if the NFL can just get more diversity among head coaches and in front offices...
SIMON: I want to note, Patrick Mahomes won a second NFL MVP prize this week. A single vote was cast for Denny Kellington, who is the Buffalo Bills assistant athletic trainer who gave life-saving CPR to Damar Hamlin when the Bills safety went into cardiac arrest on the field last month. I thought it was a wonderful gesture.
GOLDMAN: Nice moment.
SIMON: Basketball - LeBron James became the biggest scorer of all time. He was kind of pre-lauded for that achievement in the weeks leading up. This week, a lot of major stars found new teams, didn't they?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. A great moment for King James, and then all this frenetic movement of players at the trade deadline quickly became the big news, none bigger than the end of the superteam experiment in Brooklyn, which clumped superstars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden together in hopes of ruling the NBA. Well, that turned into a mess. And now it's a cautionary tale that clumping, Scott, doesn't always work. This week, the Nets traded Irving to Dallas, Durant to Phoenix, where, undaunted, he will try to create another superteam with stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Interestingly, the WNBA has gotten into the superteam game, too. New York and Las Vegas are the new behemoths of the women's game, thanks to recent free-agent signings.
SIMON: Clumping doesn't necessarily create champions. Is that why they don't have any problem - and you and me working together week after week?
SIMON: Let me ask - International Olympic Committee is suggesting a plan by which it might allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the 2024 games in Paris. Is this a strong, principled position by the IOC?
GOLDMAN: Well, it thinks so. You know, remember, after Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, the IOC pushed for strict bans on Russian teams and officials at international competitions. But now as you note, the IOC is exploring this pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Paris because the IOC says banning them amounts to discrimination. The plan would have the same neutrality rules that Russian athletes have had at the last few Olympics - no flags, no anthems, no Russian uniforms. That's been part of the ongoing doping punishment against Russia.
But it's - you know, it's always been a bit of a folly, as everyone has known who the Russian athletes are. Now, yesterday, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said, and I'm quoting, "while Russia kills and terrorizes, representatives of the terrorist state have no place at sports and Olympic competitions, and it cannot be covered up with some pretended neutrality or a white flag." Many agree with him, including the mayor of Paris. There's even talk of an Olympic boycott. So a year-and-a-half out from the games, already signs of potential trouble.
SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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