Sports: On Comebacks And Siblings

Hockey is back, and so are the crowds. Is Tiger Woods, too? Host Scott Simon talks to NPR's Tom Goldman about these stories as well as the science of siblings in the ultimate brotherly faceoff.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Hockey is back; so are the crowds. And is Tiger Woods, too? And the science of siblings, in the face of the ultimate brotherly face-off. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now. Morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hiya, Scott.

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. Let's start with the NHL. We're a week into a season that you and I had opined might never happen. We both expressed, in fact, some skepticism about public enthusiasm. But the public's back - seem to be, don't they?

GOLDMAN: In a big way. National Hockey League figures reportedly show the average attendance, league-wide, went up more than a thousand fans per game through the first 49 games, compared to the first 49 games last season. There are big, big TV viewership numbers in the first week, including the first prime-time broadcast of Hockey Night In Canada. With rivals Montreal and Toronto playing, more than a quarter of the country's population watched at least a minute of the game. Most watched a lot more than that.

So Scott, all the venom by fans during the lockout; all the vows of boycotts and protests; certainly ring hollow. And you know, it appears that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who's been blasted for three lockouts during his tenure including an entire season being canceled eight years ago...

SIMON: Right. I think I heard him blasted on this program, but go ahead.

GOLDMAN: Exactly. By you, not me.

SIMON: (LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: And it appears he knows what he's doing. He knows his audience will come back again and again and again and again.

SIMON: Yeah. I get - well, if you shrink the season to, you know, two weeks, you know, a lot of people will rush to give the people what they want. They come in droves. Another comeback this week - Tiger Woods yesterday took the lead in the Farmer's Insurance Open. That's a PGA event. How close to the top ranks is Tiger these days?

GOLDMAN: Very. He's No. 2 in the world. He seems to be climbing out of that pit he was in after his personal life fell apart. The question is, can he climb out completely? And Scott, the next two days will offer a clue. He is leading - as you say - by himself; by two strokes going into today's third round, on one of his favorite courses, Torrey Pines in San Diego. Now, ESPN is trotting out the big numbers. The last 30 times he's had the solo lead at the halfway point in an official PGA tour event, he has won 25 times.

But of course, we're dealing with a more human Tiger Woods over the past couple of years; a guy who can't always turn a lead into victory. And that happened twice last year, in major tournaments. So let's see how he finishes tomorrow and then, you know, we'll get a sense of where he's at.

SIMON: Friday, Tom, the U.S. Department of Education issued - interesting letter, basically saying that schools at all levels must make, and I'll quote now, "reasonable modifications to try to integrate students with disabilities onto sport teams." What possible impact could this have?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, it's being cheered in some quarters as an equal opportunity landmark, similar to Title IX. The letter from the Department of Education offers guidance to schools and districts, and it's making sure they're complying with an existing law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A government report from 2010 found schools and districts weren't complying. Students with disabilities were not being given reasonable opportunities, according to this report, heightening their sense of exclusion from the mainstream.

SIMON: What about the implications of some of the costs - I mean, the concern that some people would have, that you - to accommodate that, you might risk getting rid of sports - like volleyball or certain track and field events - that have a smaller fan base.

GOLDMAN: Well - and you know, in considering how strapped schools are for funding now, you know, where would the money come from if schools and districts have to create special sports programs for students with disabilities? The Education Department says what it calls separate and different programs would be the exception, and that there are many ways to get to compliance before that. An example: accommodating a deaf runner with visual cues during a race, instead of audible ones. The Department of Education - an official told me, this is not Title IX in the sense of setting up a parallel system to male sports, which it did for females.

SIMON: Tom, did you hear - finally - there are a couple of brothers, I guess, who are coaching against each other in the Super Bowl. Had you heard that?

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: Jim and John Harbaugh, first-ever meeting of brothers as head coaches in the championship game. And Scott, brace yourself for endless "Har-rible" stories. And here's one...

SIMON: Oh, oh, yeah.

GOLDMAN: Here's one. Harbaughs' parents were on a national conference call with reporters this week when a caller ID'd himself as John from Baltimore, and asked: Is it true that both of you like Jim better than John? And it was John Harbaugh. It gave everyone a good laugh. And it offered hope that the lead-up to the game could be fun. I'm thinking Smothers Brothers do the Super Bowl. And of course, I'm looking forward to the traditional head coaches' handshake at midfield, right after the game. Will they hug? Will they give each other nougies? Will they wrestle? Can't wait.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

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