Major Leagues Warn That Piracy Isn’t Very Sporting

Where are you watching the big games this weekend? At home? At the bar? If you’re watching online, you better be careful. The major athletic leagues are making a case against illegal streaming of live games. Host Scott Simon talks to Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine about the piracy of live major league games, and the death of NFL player Chris Henry.

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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: So were you watching any big games this weekend - at home, in a tavern, a restaurant? Online? Be careful - the major athletic leagues are making a case against illegal streaming of live games. Joined now by Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN the magazine and ESPN.com. Howard, thanks for being with us.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (ESPN): Good morning, Scott. How are you doing?

SIMON: I'm just fine. I just wanted it understood. Rebroadcast of our conversation is expressly prohibited.

Mr. BRYANT: Without the expressed written consent.

SIMON: Exactly.

Mr. BRYANT: Of National Public Radio.

SIMON: Exactly. So I guess I'm not aware of this.

Mr. BRYANT: Well, it's - it's growing and I think that one of the big fears on all of this - what is the story here? The story is money. As it always is - and when you think about the last eight or nine years, Major League Baseball, in particular, has made more money than it's made over any period of time, simply because of one new business, MLB Advanced Media. And they have been at the forefront of live streaming, of bringing games to your laptop, of giving you what they like to call value added services out of your computer.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: And that's the next big thing. You're seeing it with the NFL - the National Football League is extremely protective of their content in terms of what highlights you can run. I mean, and that's between the big businesses. That's between ESPN and the NFL and the other networks. And so now you bring in this third party, which is the pirated side of it, the pirating of games as they're moving. I remember, I was on a vacation once and I was watching a playoff game out of the blue, and I was thinking, where is this feed coming from? And I remember I was in Guatemala and it was just a pirated satellite feed. And so now if you can take a satellite feed and pirate it off of a television, if you can bring it to your laptop, it is a big threat to the revenue - these new revenue streams that these sports leagues are relying on.

SIMON: Yeah. I want to talk about a very sad story this week. And that's Chris Henry of the Cincinnati Bengals, a wide receiver. He fell out of the back of pickup truck during what the sheriff's police describe as a domestic dispute. He'd had some troubles in his first few years of his career. But he really seemed to be turning things around with the Bengals, according to his teammates.

Mr. BRYANT: Well, it's a terrible story and it's a very sad story and especially coming off of the heels today, another former running back, Lawrence Phillips, another troubled player from Nebraska, and then he played for the Rams just - was sentenced to 31 years in jail. It's a very - it's one of the things that when we talk about professional athletes, we have this idea that they've got it made because they've got talent. And it's a box that we all seem to fall into, that having ability somehow makes you somehow more adjusted than your fellow citizens or the fans that are watching you. And it's just not the case.

And I think the issue once again is - is the money. I think what happens is, is that we assume that because you've got ability that once you're being compensated financially, then you don't have any problems. And it's obvious that Chris Henry, whether he had problems on the field, which he did, he had problems off the field, he'd been arrested multiple times, he'd had domestic violence issues as well. I think about this country in many, many ways that it has produced some of the most talented people. But some of those people have also been the most tormented.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: I don't think sport is any different. But somehow we seem to make the connection that it is different. It really isn't. Just because you can hit a ball with a stick or just because you can run 100 yards or 50, you know, 40 years in 4.2 seconds, does not mean that you don't have real emotional problems, and Chris Henry obviously, when you look at the sum total of his 26 years - he was only 26 years old.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: He did not have it made. He had a lot of problems and it's a very, very sad story.

SIMON: We really don't have time to more but mention the fact that this late in the season you've got two undefeated teams, the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints. That's extraordinary.

Mr. BRYANT: It's incredible, and especially because from 1972 to 2006, you didn't have any. And then in 2007 you get the Patriots, and now you've got a chance for Indianapolis, who won Thursday night, and you've got the Saints, who play Dallas tonight, to go undefeated. So you can have three in a three-year period, which is remarkable. And once again, the pressure to perform at this level, especially now that you're getting close to the play-off, is already difficult enough, and now to have to do it with the possibility of an undefeated season - I'd liked to see these two teams play each other in the Super Bowl. That would be - that would be something to watch...

SIMON: One of them would have to win then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRYANT: Somebody has to win, yes.

SIMON: Howard, thanks so much.

Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.

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