This Week In Sports, Stars Called The Tune

This week Barry Bonds faced the music and probably liked what he heard. The whole orchestra is just warming up for Roger Clemens, but Kobe Bryant sure struck a sour note. Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's sports maestro Tom Goldman about the week's cacophony.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

(Soundbite of music)

This week, Barry Bonds faced the music, probably liked what he heard. The whole orchestra is just warming up for Roger Clemens. But Kobe Bryant sure struck a sour note, as NPR's sport maestro Tom Goldman joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And Barry Bonds, you covered that trial, was convicted of one of the four charges that he faced for lying to investigators about steroid use. One of the four counts, was this a $10 million strikeout for the prosecution?

GOLDMAN: Not if you asked them. I spoke to one person who helped in the prosecution of this case and other cases related to the - other trials related to the BALCO doping scandal. And he called the result a triumph.

Now, that may be going too far, but considering how the prosecution was hamstrung going into this case. Mainly they didn't have the person who would've been a star witness - Barry Bonds' former personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who chose not to testify and went to jail for it.

So considering the limitations, the government actually was pleased it got one guilty verdict.

SIMON: Now, there's no assurances, but presumably there's no jail time. He'll pay a fine and spend 10,000 hours talking to kids at the Boys Club telling them not to commit perjury. That raises the question, why was this a legal matter?

GOLDMAN: You know, for those who believe, like the government does, that it's wrong to lie or obstruct justice in sworn testimony before a grand jury or in court or before Congress, you know, it was worth it.

Baseball, as you know, is a multibillion dollar business. It's a sport, a pastime that's very important to millions of people. And for many people who love the sport it's not insignificant that a number of players over the years have made gains, you know, in a fraudulent way, if you believe in the rules against doping. And for those people, this was worth it.

SIMON: How does this set the table for Roger Clemens and his trial in July?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, reportedly a member of Clemens defense team was at the Bonds trial observing, and he saw the government with a case that was limited, as I mentioned. And they still came away with a conviction. The case versus Clemens appears much stronger. There is a Greg Anderson type, Clemens' former trainer Brian McNamee, who's expected to provide very direct testimony against Clemens.

And, you know, Scott, while the jury in the Bonds trial had to sift through Bonds words and figure out if he knew he was taking banned drugs, Clemens was very direct to Congress when he said, let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or human growth hormone.

So the government seems to be in much better standing going in.

SIMON: In basketball, with the playoffs coming up, Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 by the NBA for using a homophobic slur toward a referee. Now, Kobe Bryant probably makes $100,000 before he brushes the teeth in the morning. Should the NBA have suspended him for a couple of playoff games? Would that have made the point?

GOLDMAN: It would've made the point, and some say he should have. You know, the furor created by this has been a positive step in itself interestingly. As one commentary in OutSports.com said, One of the greatest and most prominent athletes on the planet was forced to spend a day on the defensive after insulting gay people. And neither his money nor his fame were enough to give him a pass. And that's progress, no matter how painful.

Now, a couple of gay and lesbian advocacy groups are working with the NBA and other sports leagues on education campaigns.

And, Scott, you know, maybe someday major men's team sports will have a Jackie Robinson moment with a prominent gay athlete. Someone, a star, to come out while he's playing, face the kind of stuff Jackie Robinson did and keep playing. You know, that would go a long way to changing the ugly attitudes that still purvey locker rooms and fields and in the stands at games.

SIMON: And as the playoffs are about to begin, the players of the moment seem to be not so much Kobe and LeBron but Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma Thunder and Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls. You see them as winding up in the final round?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. And Kobe and LeBron love flying under the radar, don't they? Yeah, I mean, those guys are great. Rose has been transcendent. He should be the league most valuable player. Chicago has a relatively easy ride through the first couple of rounds. You know, but the question is - are these teams ready? They don't have a lot of experience going deep into the playoffs. And will that hurt?

SIMON: You know, I'm going to go out and play a round with Kevin Na after the show. He shot 16 on a par 4 in a PGA Tour. Boy, you've got to admire his honesty for signing that score card.

GOLDMAN: What I loved is when he was off in the woods hacking away he whiffed at the ball and penalized himself a stroke for that. Now, who among us who has whiffed looked up to see if anyone saw, you know? So it is an honor sport for sure.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman.

Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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