Week In Sports: Players React To Grim Shooting News

Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon speaks with NPR's Tom Goldman about the latest sports news, including reaction from the sports world on the mass shooting in Connecticut. Also, knee injuries, once thought to end careers in the NFL, are not so much of an issue this year.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Of course, the news this morning is dominated by yesterday's events in Newtown, Connecticut. And while we're covering the shootings throughout the program, there is other news; even sports, which is sometimes called the great diversion.

And maybe this is a good moment for that diversion. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: A hard morning - many people in sports had exactly that reaction, and shared their reactions to what happened in Connecticut.

GOLDMAN: They did, yes. Sports did go on, with recognition of what happened. There were moments of silence in arenas. At a Brooklyn Nets home game, the video screen showed a candle, and the town seal of Newtown. And as you mention, a number of athletes did comment on Twitter. Most of the messages were ones of shock and condolence. But there were some that went beyond that, too.

LeBron James said, "Something has to be done. Land of the free, BS." NFL punter Chris Kluwe, one of the most outspoken athletes in major pro sports, said, "The way we deal with this tragedy will tell us a lot about where we're headed as a society. Do we only address the symptoms, i.e., just gun control laws, or do we also address the disease, how we treat each other and those who need help?" High-profile athletes, Scott, often are guarded when it comes to social and political issues; not yesterday, though.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the L.A. Lakers. They've lost six of their last eight games. Now, they won last night, but it was just against the Washington Wizards, which doesn't make it exactly a statement game, now - is it?

GOLDMAN: The Wizards have the worst record in the NBA. So no, the narrow - 102-96 - win is not exactly a statement. But for L.A., any win is important right now. It ended a four-game losing streak. And L.A.'s troubles really have become the story in the NBA, a quarter of the way through the regular season. There was so much expectation, with the addition of stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. But right now, the Lakers are only the third best team in all of California; with the L.A. Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, up in the Bay Area, surging.

Many Lakers supporters are taking the half-full approach, saying you really can't judge this team until point guard Nash, and big man Pau Gasol, get back from injuries - which should be soon. But when they do, there's a heck of a lot of work to do - on offense and defense. And can new coach Mike D'Antoni adjust to fit the personnel he's got? L.A. is a slow team. That's been painfully obvious. Can he temper his love for up-tempo basketball, to fit who he's got on the floor? These are smart, skilled basketball players, Scott; several of them destined for the Hall of Fame. We will find out just how skilled and smart they are.

SIMON: Let me ask you about what could be a big change in college basketball. Seven Catholic schools from the Big East, including the big ones - DePaul and Georgetown - are reportedly planning to leave the conference; form a new, basketball-focused league.

GOLDMAN: It's a dramatic move by schools that don't play football at the highest division; who are fighting back against all the conference realignment that's been going on, based on football programs. Breaking away could benefit these seven - and maybe more - in a new conference, in terms of attracting bigger TV money and top recruits. They feel the alternative is to stay in the Big East. And with schools coming into the Big East that don't have top basketball programs, there's the very real risk that the conference's great basketball tradition, and reputation, would become second-rate.

SIMON: And an uplifting note this weekend, for the NFL. Now, normally when a running back suffers an ACL tear, it ends his career. But this season, we have a couple of running backs who have made a terrific recovery from that injury.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely. Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings; he's leading the NFL in rushing, by more than 300 yards. Jamaal Charles, playing for Kansas City, having a horrible season, obviously, still is fifth in rushing. Both are coming back from major knee injuries last year. And both are challenging the conventional wisdom that it often takes a couple of seasons - if the athlete comes back at all - to fully recover, and play the way they did before.

I talked to Dr. John DiFiori, chief of sports medicine at UCLA. He says the latest research shows 30 percent of high-caliber athletes with ACL reconstruction, get back to their sport. And of those athletes, 30 percent get back to their previous level. So he says Peterson and Charles - you're talking about the exception of exceptions; quite a story. And Peterson is in the conversation for NFL's most valuable player this season.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, good to talk to you, my friend. NPR's Tom Goldman - thanks, as always.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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