Baseball, Basketball In The Beauty Shop

NFL players are donning pink to support a league-wide campaign against breast cancer. As the WNBA finals and MLB playoffs are kicking into gear, the NBA season is halting. Michel Martin talks sports with US A Today Sports Columnist Christine Brennan, ESPN the Magazine Staff Writer Elena Bergeron, and TheWiseLatinaClub.com Blogger-in-Chief Viviana Hurtado.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, NPR News. It's time to head to the Beauty Shop, where women give their perspective on what's happening in the news. This week, we're feeling sporty, so the ladies are going to give their take on the headlines from the week in sports, including country singer Hank Williams, Jr.'s NFL hit gets yanked. The NBA cancels its preseason. Meanwhile, the WNBA is playing its season finals, and the first team is beaten out of the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Here to help us make sense of all of this, Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today. She's also a sports commentator and bestselling author. Elena Bergeron is a staff writer covering the NBA and college basketball for ESPN the Magazine. And Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief of the website, TheWiseLatinaClub.

Ladies, welcome.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Thank you. Great to be here.

VIVIANA HURTADO: Hi.

ELENA BERGERON: Thanks, Michel. Hi.

MARTIN: Well, you know, it's the battle cry for football fanatics everywhere. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL")

HANK WILLIAMS, JR.: (Singing) Are you ready for some football, a Monday night party? Yeah, this is rockin' randy Hank...

MARTIN: If you're a football fan, you probably hear that in your sleep. But Hank Williams, Jr. - who's the crooner who belts the song - had his microphone yanked after controversial comments he made about President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during an interview on Fox News' "Fox and Friends." He was outraged about the summer golf outing that they had with House Speaker John Boehner and Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich.

I'll just play it in case people missed it, so they know what we're talking about. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

WILLIAMS: Come on, come on. That'd be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu. Okay?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Okay.

WILLIAMS: Not hardly. And the country this shape is in - the shape this country's in, I mean - no.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So - yeah. I don't understand that analogy, actually.

WILLIAMS: The one that makes - well, I'm glad you don't, brother, because a lot of people do. You know, they're the enemy. They're the enemy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Who's the enemy?

WILLIAMS: Obama and Biden. Are you kidding? The three stooges.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's only two.

WILLIAMS: The one that makes the most sense is Herman Cain.

MARTIN: Well, they - so they had - the host had asked him about his political views, but this was clearly a step too far for (unintelligible). Christine, I'm just curious about your reaction to this.

BRENNAN: I think ESPN did the right thing, Michel, and I think they should get rid of that song forever. And here's why: I know people talk about free speech and a lot of folks think, well, what would happen in my situation if I were in front of the microphone for the first time? Well, this man is not in front of the microphone for the first time. Like you and I and your other guests and those of us who are in the media and out front, we know that, with the right to speak, freedom of speech is also - it comes with great responsibility.

And, you know, whatever happened to the analogy of like oil and water, you know, in terms of comparing things that are - you know, to pick the name Hitler is so reprehensible and just so awful, that it seems to me this goes well beyond free speech to responsibility and how a network wants to represent itself on one of its marquis events, Monday Night Football. And that's why I think ESPN did the right thing in getting rid of it this week, and I think now they should do that permanently.

MARTIN: Viviana, what do you think?

HURTADO: Building on what Christine has to say, it's really a question of the use of language, and there's no need to have to go to the most outrageous limits to make a point. It's something that's been seen again and again, certainly, in political discourse about the need to kind of bring back decency and civility into the way we speak with each other, not just even debate.

And just kind of, as well, Christine said that when you take the microphone and your experience - should definitely know how to do it, I would go one step further and say nobody should be using this kind of incendiary language that does nothing but incense people and really takes the spotlight away from what Hank Williams said he was trying to do, which is shine the spotlight on hurting working families.

But we're not talking about that, are we? We're talking about ESPN and what they should have done, and this kind of language.

MARTIN: Well, I do want to say that I think that free speech means that you don't get thrown in jail for your political views. I don't think it means that you get be paid millions of dollars in royalties for your song. I mean, I don't remember people crying when the Dixie Chicks were - some people took umbrage at their comments about President George W. Bush, and a number of radio stations said, I don't particularly care to play your records at the moment. Thank you very much. You know, they've done fine.

But Elena, you work for ESPN, so we're not going to ask you to comment on company policy. I'm curious, though, what reaction people are getting to the decision.

BERGERON: Well, I think the reaction has been split. I think I read a piece in The Tennessean this morning that said that ESPN may be taking it too far and, you know, when Rush Limbaugh made some comments on Monday Night Football, it wasn't handled exactly the same.

But I think that they're...

MARTIN: Yes, it was. He was fired. What are you talking about? He was fired.

BERGERON: Exactly. You'd have to go to that columnist and ask him what he's talking about, because it's certainly not my opinion. But I do end up thinking that there will be traditionalists who miss that marquis theme song for that, you know, broadcast. And I think that if they do, they should use it as a teaching point and as a moment to go, well, this is missing, and I don't get to hear "Are You Ready for Some Football." And when you're talking about missing that song in bars and then, you know, when you're watching the games with your friends in the man cave, you should also mention why Hitler and bringing up Hitler is such a bad thing.

MARTIN: Just to clarify, he said in a statement posted on Facebook and his website on Tuesday that his passion for politics and sports got the best or worst of me. And he also said that - it was the classic apology. If someone was offended, I apologize.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BRENNAN: I can't stand that, and I wish we could have, Michel, a moratorium on that for everyone who says something dumb for the rest of their lives on any airwaves ever to not say that. You have offended somebody. Just apologize. And why people still do that - and also, we are talking - I don't care if people like the president or don't like this president or didn't like the last one or like him or whatever. It's the office of the presidency. So the very fact that we're using the name of maybe the most reprehensible person of 100 years, 200 years, you name it, associated with office of the president is also just, again, reprehensible. So I'm glad you brought up the topic, because I think it's an important one to discuss.

BERGERON: Well, I also think that Hank did enough to discredit himself in that conversation. Later on, the Fox News guy asked him to kind of explain what he was talking about with the Hitler comparison, and he went on the compare Obama and - I'm sorry, Obama and Biden to the three stooges. So the lack of math there is also kind of a problem.

MARTIN: A very valid point. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're visiting the Beauty Shop, where we get women's thoughts on issues in the news. And we decided that we were feeling sporty today, so we've called upon Christine Brennan of USA Today and also bestselling author, Elena Bergeron of ESPN the Magazine, and Viviana Hurtado of TheWiseLatinaClub.

Elena, you're our NBA diva, so we just want to ask you: What is going on with the NBA owners and players? The preseason's been cancelled, and apparently there are no plans to meet again. As I understand it, if reports are accurate, the owners were proposing a 50-50 split of revenue. Now, your average Jane, which we are, says that sounds pretty good. So what was the objection?

BERGERON: Well, I was in the press conferences after both meetings, and I don't think the players' association is exactly happy with David Stern representing that 50-50 as he did. As Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher explained, the 50-50 wasn't a legitimate split. There are some points and percentages off there that would have forced the players' association to give up maybe $300 million to pay for the sort of institutional things that the NBA should be footing the bill for, such as NBA International and growing the game in China and India, and also just a bunch of different revenue policies.

So it wasn't a true 50-50 split. So they resented that. But I think they also resented the fact that they were being asked to make a decision on a deal that the players had not authorized them to make.

The players in previous meetings had authorized them to negotiate down to about 53 percent. So it's a bit like, you know, being in an auction and giving your representative a limit on the amount of money that you want to spend on a painting. You can say, hey, don't go above $10,000. And Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter weren't authorized by those guys to go below 53 percent.

MARTIN: Okay. Christina, I want to ask you to speculate, and I know that's always unfair. But how likely is it, you think, that there will be a season now that the preseason's been cancelled?

BRENNAN: I think there will be a season. I don't know that we'll have a whole season, and fans are used to this back in the '90s, where there were partial seasons. I find it almost unbelievable, Michel, that David Stern, who's a very smart man - in fact, we've given him a lot of credit over the years for maybe being the smartest, most with-it commissioner in terms of understanding what the fans want.

These economic times, fans' eyes must be glazing over. We did this with the NFL. Now, here we go again with the NBA. The difference is the NBA. It's nowhere near in the financial shape that the NFL was.

So my sense is that, once again, cooler heads will prevail. When they come time - when it comes time to that deadline where it's do or die - and I hate that metaphor in this sense, because it's not do or die. It's sports. But whatever that - those words are, I think that they will come to an agreement.

Here's why: the NHL - of course, some folks might remember - the NHL, the hockey league basically didn't have a season several years ago. And they've had several years of coming back, even with the help of the Olympic tournament, to get back to their fan base.

David Stern - again, I give him a lot of credit - and the players understand you do not want to put yourself out of business in these economic times for a full year.

MARTIN: Viviana, can I just get your fan perspective here? Is this - are you kind of on the edge of your seat waiting to see if there's going to be season or not?

HURTADO: You know, it's great entertainment for me, and I want to see as much of it as I can. But - and, you know, look, a lot of fans are upset. The players, as well as the owners, have valid points, as Elena detailed. But I just keep thinking that this is probably one of the only examples right now in America where labor and where the players - where the dynamic seems to be flipped.

And once the dust settles, I'm hoping that we can kind of - all of us, as spectators and people who are in the game - just approach these other battles that are going on in state houses, certainly, you know, throughout the country. Because it's not billions of dollars that are at stake for families, but you know, maybe hundreds of dollars here and there, and that means the difference of what kind of quality of food, or any food, that they get on the table.

MARTIN: So what you're saying - that here's an example where labor standing strong is actually having an impact on the discussions. And you're saying other workers could take a cue from it, even if they don't look as good in shorts as these guys do?

HURTADO: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Okay. But speaking of - you know, we've got to talk about the WNBA, the final starter Sunday, best-of-five series between the Atlanta Dream and the Minnesota Lynx. Christine, what kind of a season was this? And, you know, I understand that the WNBA is below the radar for a lot of fans, but some very good basketball being played here.

BRENNAN: Oh, absolutely, and also, some very positive numbers, TV ratings up five percent from last season to this season, the highest since 2005. They're not a lot, but again, that's going up - attendance close to 8,000 per game, per team, up one and - a little bit more than one percent from last year, a new commissioner.

Maya Moore is playing in the finals with Minnesota. That is great, the great star from UConn. Everyone remembers UConn, the Connecticut Huskies. Now she's in the NBA and doing - WNBA and doing great.

And I think what I love about it is the role-model aspect, which we always talk about with girls, giving them a chance to see women who look like them, and maybe someday they can do this. First time ever, 15 years of the WNBA, both coaches are women. The final coaches are women. So that ensures that for only the second time in the league's history, a woman coach will be the champion of the WNBA. And I think that's a wonderful step in the right direction. So some very positive moments, I think, for the WNBA.

MARTIN: And also, some people on the come up. The Minnesota Lynx are in for the first time in franchise history, the Atlanta Dream back for the second straight year.

Elena, how does it look to you?

BERGERON: I think it's amazing that, at this point, we're seeing the growth of the league, meaning that the people that are stars and the marquis players in these finals games are new-generation women. It's not, you know, Sheryl Swoopes and it's not Lisa Leslie and it's not people that, you know, have been hammered into our heads for a million years, being on the Olympic teams. It's younger women. It's women under 30. It's Angel McCoughtry. You know, it's Seimone Augustus. It's a bunch of new faces that can be stars for the league, and I think that's very important for the growth of the league. I think they have to build on the fans that they've, you know, accumulated thus far in their - since they've been in existence.

MARTIN: But I also have to say, for those of us who are on the other side of 40, there's (unintelligible) Taj McWilliams-Franklin is - hit the big 4-0 and scoring double digits. Represent. Represent. Something for everybody to cheer for.

Okay. Before we go, let's talk about baseball. Yesterday, the Texas Rangers eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series for the second year in a row. They'll play the winner of the series between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers. It's tied 2-2.

Let me just play a clip of Detroit Lions manager Jim Leyland talking about a key defensive play made by Curtis Granderson, a big catch in the outfield from the Yankees. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JIM LEYLAND: Sometimes, you pick a key out in the game, and I think the key out in the game happened in the very first inning when Donny Kelly smoked that ball and Grandy made a good play. It looked like it might get over his head. If he would have got over his head and fallen down, it might have been an inside-the-park homerun. So that was a huge out, right off the bat.

MARTIN: I'm sorry. What was I thinking? The Detroit Tigers. Excuse me. Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my. Sorry. Detroit Tigers Manager. Forgive me. I don't want to lose my card. Okay. How's it looking, Christine? How's it looking?

BRENNAN: Well, the Tigers, as you mentioned, you know, they're still in it. You know, the Yankees and Tigers are going to the fifth game. So that's really a marquis match-up because it involves the Yankees and everyone - you love the Yankees, you hate the Yankees.

But I do think that, while we're seeing some great baseball, the fans are not tuning in. Believe it or not, Michel, the Fox pregame show for the NFL beat, outrated, outranked in TV ratings any Major League Baseball game over the weekend, and those were all those playoff games.

So this methodical game maybe isn't quite what our fast-paced video game world wants anymore, but I'm loving it, and it looks like the Yankees have the upper hand. They would then play Texas. Philadelphia is looking pretty good against St. Louis, and they would probably play Milwaukee. So some great races and excellent games to kind of reach a crescendo at this point in the season.

MARTIN: Elena, what do you think?

BERGERON: I think that was an awesome quote from Jim Leyland. He's one of my favorite managers in the business, but he's absolutely right. And it's so weird, in a series and in one game, to have a defensive play change the course of the game. And I think that speaks to the kind of risk you take when you're starting AJ Burnett, the fact that, you know, a game could be decided in the first inning. He walks, the bases loaded and it's, you know, all hands on deck, basically, for the Yankees. And Curtis Granderson made that big play, and then he made another huge, run-saving play in the outfield later on in the game. So he's been really huge for the Yankees.

But I think it'll be interesting to see Ivan Nova make a start for those guys. He ended up coming on the relief for game one, the game that CC Sabathia started and pitched two great innings. And he came in, and it was extended real easy, just about seven innings, I want to say. And he's been totally unflappable. He was a huge Andy Pettitte fan growing up, and so he kind of admired his cool and his calm. So I think we might see that series get tied up.

MARTIN: All right. Viviana, before we go, I just wanted to ask you to comment on what Christine said about, you know, why is it that baseball is less attractive to the fans, particularly given the changing demographics of the country. You know, we have, you know, an - a large, you know, Latino population here. There are many star, standout Latino players - not that that's the only reason why people watch.

Do you think Christine's on point here? Maybe it's just our lifestyles are such that we just don't appreciate the game as much as we used to?

HURTADO: I was going to say, one of the things I love about watching baseball, that I can actually do other things. I can multitask, whereas other games are really fast and you just have to be glued to the action or you're going to miss something. I think that Christine is spot-on about how it is that our culture is moving really quickly. But one thing I do want to say is, demographically speaking, as the Latino community grows, I think you're going to see different kind of fans coming in.

MARTIN: All right. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief at TheWiseLatinaClub. She was with us from New York, along with Elena Bergeron. She's a staff writer covering the NBA and college basketball for ESPN the Magazine. Here with me in our Washington, DC bureau, Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today, sports commentator, bestselling author.

Thank you all so much.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Michel.

BERGERON: Thanks for having us.

HURTADO: Thanks.

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