Scott Simon talks with ESPN’s Howard Bryant about sports and politics this week, sports betting legalizing in New York, the National Championship game, and the passing of Dodgers’ Tommy Lasorda.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And now to the stirring strains of BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, it is time for sports.
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SIMON: Sports and politics together again following the Georgia runoff and the insurrection at the Capitol. Also, will New York state be the next capital of sports betting? And just a weekend away from the Ohio State-Alabama college national championship. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us. Howard, thanks for being with us.
HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you?
SIMON: How are you this week, my friend?
BRYANT: I’m good.
SIMON: (Laughter) How are any of us?
BRYANT: It’s been a week.
SIMON: It’s been a week. Well, let’s begin with politics first. It can be said that a sports franchise may have played a significant role in the week’s Georgia Senate runoff.
BRYANT: Well, there’s no question that there was a connection if you go back to last year with all of what was taking place during the summer after George Floyd and Jacob Blake and all of the unrest. And then also, when you think about the WNBA, this has been going on – their activism has been going on since before Colin Kaepernick. So we’re really looking at, you know, more than a half-decade so far of their involvement.
And Raphael Warnock, I believe, was trailing – was – he was polling at about 6% in August when the WNBA Atlanta Dream came out and the players were wearing Vote Warnock T-shirts in their warmup. And that was significant because the Dream is co-owned by Kelly Loeffler. And it was the players in that league who really came forward and really sort of gave Raphael Warnock’s campaign a huge boost. That visibility really did something for his campaign. And now it turns out he wins. You cannot underestimate what they did.
On top of that, you had the very next day – actually, I think it was the day before, you had the Kenosha County in Wisconsin announce that they weren’t going to press charges or bring charges against the police officer who shot Jacob Blake in the back. And the – you know, that was the center of the protest for the Milwaukee Bucks, when the players walked out. And then the basketball players followed, the Orlando Magic, and Naomi Osaka, the tennis player. And then sports shut down for a day and a little bit more.
And then, of course, what happened in the Capitol. So when you start to look at what took place in this past week, all of the tie-ins go back to the unrest of last summer and the activism of the athletes of last summer. I’m interested to see what the players do after recognizing how many times they were told to stick to sports, how many times they were told to be good Americans, and then they see the very people who are criticizing them storm the most important lawmaking building in the country.
SIMON: Let me riffle through a few things quickly. New York might legalize sports betting. Is this the worst idea or merely a bad one?
BRYANT: Well, it’s just where we are. I think it’s a bad one. I’ve never been a gambling person when it came to sports because they talked about integrity. But the money’s too big, and now the teams are in on it. And the minute the leagues began to see profit, that ship had sailed. Now it’s – all bets are off, no pun intended.
SIMON: If you lived in New York, would you put $5 on Crimson Tide or the Buckeyes?
BRYANT: I think we’re going no – I got to go Alabama. I’m not a betting man, but that’s a football machine. Who would bet against Alabama?
SIMON: Finally, Tommy Lasorda died this week, went to the big Dodger in the sky, as he used to call God. He was 93. I love what he said once that – many things, but he said the only problem with success is that it doesn’t teach you how to handle failure. I really liked him.
BRYANT: Yeah. Tommy – also the epitome of an old-school era when the manager was the face of the franchise. And nobody connected Brooklyn to LA to celebrity like Tommy Lasorda. True, true legend when you think about that Dodger franchise. Very big loss for them.
SIMON: Yeah. And another thing he said – whenever anybody asks you to give an autograph, give it to them, always. An old-school gentleman in many ways. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much.
BRYANT: Thank you.
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