Saturday Sports: Andrew Luck, Tyler Skaggs A tragic death and a surprise retirement are shaking faith in football while upstarts are playing legends in tennis. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with ESPN's Michele Steele.
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Saturday Sports: Andrew Luck, Tyler Skaggs

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Saturday Sports: Andrew Luck, Tyler Skaggs

Saturday Sports: Andrew Luck, Tyler Skaggs

Saturday Sports: Andrew Luck, Tyler Skaggs

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A tragic death and a surprise retirement are shaking faith in football while upstarts are playing legends in tennis. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with ESPN's Michele Steele.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And not a happy week in sports. Andrew Luck retired from the NFL at the age of 29, saying he just can't take the pain. And an autopsy revealed that the Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died of an overdose of dangerous drugs, including opioids and also alcohol. He was just 27.

We're joined this week by Michele Steele of ESPN from Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us, Michele.

MICHELE STEELE: You bet, Scott.

SIMON: This is a heartbreaking story. The LA Times revealed the autopsy yesterday. The families hired an attorney to try and find out how he got those drugs. He did not seem to be dealing with any injuries that might drive him to legally prescribed painkillers - let me put it that way, though.

STEELE: Yeah, Scott. What a tragic story. You know, Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, you mentioned, just 27. He was on a road trip on - with the team. He was found in his hotel unconscious on July 1. And the coroner's report that was just released says that they found alcohol, oxycodone and fentanyl in his system when he died. Those are some really powerful painkillers. You know, you mentioned injuries, he was healthy this season.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: He had just pitched a couple days before, but he has had injuries throughout his career. And the Skaggs family released a statement just last night saying they were shocked to learn about the circumstances of his death and that it, quote, "may involve an employee of the Los Angeles Angels." Now they've hired a pretty big attorney.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: The police are investigating as well. Now the league is coming in. They're planning their own investigation. And, Scott, the team, they're not commenting.

SIMON: I want to ask you about what I'll refer to as the aftershocks of Andrew Luck's announcement he was retiring from pro football and the Indianapolis Colts. What do you make of yackers on sports radio or even some retired players who criticized him for making that decision?

STEELE: Oh, boy. You know, what a week for the hot take industry, so to speak. He was called soft, too much of a millennial primarily by what I'll call opportunistic sports hosts. You know, Andrew Luck is a guy who reads books literally about concrete. He has a flip phone. There may be reasons to criticize him, but being a millennial certainly isn't one of them. He's got $100 million in career earnings. He just doesn't want to be hit anymore. Let's let him live his life.

SIMON: Yeah, I was very moved by what Rob Gronkowski said. Obviously - I think you covered him - right? - when you covered the New England Patriots.

STEELE: Yeah, yeah. You, know I was there for three years - 2013 to 2016 in New England. I covered him during that very eventful time. And if I could describe his persona, it would be really like a fun, slobbery golden retriever. And to see him this week, you know, talking about his football life and to be brought to tears talking about his career - he retired, by the way, this year at age 30 - not being able to sleep the night of the Super Bowl, it made me feel sad. So, you know, I'm happy that he's working on being kind of a fun, happy guy again.

SIMON: You know, I've got to ask you - put you in a difficult position as a sports reporter - the more we learn more about disabling and even brain-obliterating injuries in football, is it going to be harder to get people to play, and for that matter, harder to get Americans to watch?

STEELE: Yeah, that is a great question and an existential one for the NFL. You would think it might be harder to watch. But last year was actually a great ratings year for the NFL. The league is talking about expanding the season maybe to 18 games. And even Gronk said this week he knew what he was signing up for. So I think players being self-aware certainly matters - matters to fans, matters to reporters. But we might see players go more the route of Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski and decide to sort of pack it in earlier than they would have maybe in prior eras.

SIMON: Fifteen seconds left, match of the day at U.S. Open?

STEELE: Oh, no question, 15-year-old Coco Gauff taking on U.S. Open defending champ Naomi Osaka. These are two women who came of age after Serena and Venus went pro. Serena called them the future of tennis. She's going to be watching. I'm going to be watching, too. How about you, Scott?

SIMON: Oh, yeah, have to. Michele Steele of ESPN, thanks so much.

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