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Sports: Real Losses And Potential Downslides

May 5, 2012
Originally published on May 6, 2012 10:26 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.

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SIMON: Another football tragedy this week renews questions about the safety of the game that made so many stars rich, but at what cost? It may be closing time for one of the all-time great closers. And the hockey playoffs - going Hollywood? Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN.com joins us.

Thanks for being with us, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, Scott. Good morning.

SIMON: And Junior Seau, this 12-time Pro Bowler with the San Diego Chargers, took his own life this week. Without prejudging the results of any investigation, how does this set back a sport that's already reeling from suicides and suspensions?

BRYANT: Well, this is as bad as it's going to get for football. We've been talking about this for several years now. And once again, you're starting to reach this tipping point, especially the bigger the name the bigger the story. And with a player like Junior Seau, who played 12-time Pro Bowl, 20-year player, there's no getting around the fact that football is a huge, huge, huge problem right now.

And there's no getting around the empirical evidence, the growing evidence, the anecdotal evidence. Obviously, you'd want to have respect for the family, you want to have respect for Junior Seau's career, for his life, but, you know, there's no getting around also the fact that Junior Seau is not an isolated incident.

You've got - over the last 15 months you've got three very well-known football players who have committed suicide by gunshot wound very young in life. Junior Seau was 43. Ray Easterling, three weeks ago, was 62. Dave Duerson, last year, 50 years old. And in 2006, Andre Waters was 44.

And, once again, the head trauma issue about this sport, it's not going away. And, as I've said over and over again, the problem with football is football. You've got 1,500 players, in addition to these four players who have taken their own lives, who are now suing the league over head trauma issues and over the safety of the game.

SIMON: Switching over to baseball. One of the greatest relief pitchers, if not the greatest of all time, Mariano Rivera, shagging a fly ball before a game in Kansas City Thursday night, stepped awkwardly on his right foot. He says I'm coming back. Write it down in big letters. But this could be closing time.

BRYANT: Well, when you're 42 years old as a professional athlete, every day seems to be close to closing time. But Mariano is extremely determined. He's an incredibly fit athlete. He is incredibly driven.

And I think it was really interesting to listen to him talk about quitting. And to him - to the fans who love him, who want to see him exceed, the humiliation in the game is watching the great Rivera go out on the mound and being beaten by lesser players.

To him, the humiliation is having to quit the game over something really fluky and silly as hurting your leg out in the outfield. If you're going to retire, to him at least, you should retire on the mound because you don't want to do it anymore, not because of some freak accident.

So I think it's going to be very interesting to see how both he deals with this and how his fans and how the game deals with it, because it's obvious that he wants to go out on the mound at his best. But as we all know, in professional sports, you don't always get to do that. Unusually the game takes you away when you don't want to go.

SIMON: What the best story in the hockey playoffs?

BRYANT: The best story in the hockey playoffs may very well be the L.A. Kings. You've got a lot of good stories here. You've got the Philadelphia Flyers, who are a terrific team. And they came back. They went to the Stanley Cup two years ago. They got beat by the Bruins last year. And now they're back against the Devils.

But I like the L.A. Kings. I think the Kings are Southern California Stanley Cup-bound. They're up 3-0. They're up the 3-0 on the Blues, and I think that's a great story.

You also have the Phoenix Coyotes, who are back from bankruptcy and Wayne Gretzky. And they're up three games to one over Nashville. So - and then there's the best team, which is the New York Rangers, who I still think they're going to the Stanley Cup.

SIMON: Quickly, Derby today. I have two dollars on a 50-1 shot called Done Talking, because that's what everybody always asks me.

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BRYANT: I'm with you.

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SIMON: All right. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.