Bad Boys Of Sports Pay The Price O.J. Simpson is headed to prison. Five NFL players will be allowed to play this weekend, but what do their futures hold? Plus, did Friday night's battle in Boston seem more like the Varsity Celtics beating up on the JV Portland Trailblazers?

Bad Boys Of Sports Pay The Price

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Let's go to sports now. Last night's battle in Boston seemed more like the Varsity Celtics beating up on the Junior Varsity Portland Trailblazers. They won 98 to 73. Five NFL players will be allowed to play this weekend, but what about their futures? And O.J. Simpson is headed for prison.

Joining us now from Portland is NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Scott. Good morning.

SIMON: Good morning. Now, the Blazers really hoped to prove that they could play at the Celtics' level last night. But it never got close, did it?

GOLDMAN: It certainly didn't. It was a - you know, as you mentioned, 15-point difference in the score, but Blazers at one point were down by 25. And it just - it was never close. There was a lot of talk around the NBA about this being a major test for Portland. You know, how will this young, talented, upstart team, winners of six in a row do against the champions? Well, the champions, obviously, had been doing some talking amongst themselves. Great teams like Boston love games like these, and they love to remind the world of the proper NBA order of things.

Now, Scott, as far as the game, here's all you need to know. With 0:6:30 left in the third quarter, with Portland down 20 and sleepwalking through this highly anticipated matchup, my 10-year-old son, who has at the top of his holiday wish list a Rudy Fernandez Blazer jersey and who watches NBA games while shooting a nerf basketball against the wall, he turns to me and says, this is boring.

SIMON: Ooh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: I'd like to personally thank the Blazers for leaving me with a bored 10-year-old on a Friday night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, Tom, is he listening to our show now, and what's he saying?

GOLDMAN: He's asleep.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: All right. Don't wake him up for dad, certainly, or uncle me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

This week, the NFL had its eye on the criminal justice system, one way or another. A federal judge from Minnesota yesterday, he blocked the suspension of five NFL players who tested positive for a banned substance last summer. But the players will still play on Sunday, right?

GOLDMAN: They will. The judge Friday blocked the case because he said he just needed more time to go over all the evidence and the testimony that was dropped in his lap at the hearing. The players are three New Orleans Saints and two Minnesota Vikings, and they were suspended this week four games each for violating the NFL's anti-doping policy. They tested positive last summer in training camp for a banned diuretic substance that can mask steroid use.

Now the substance was in a weight-loss supplement the guys took, but it wasn't listed as an ingredient. The players union sued this week to reinstate the players, and the union says that the NFL knew about the tainted supplement but didn't warn players. The NFL denies this and says it's the players' responsibility to show what they're putting in their bodies.

We don't know how the judge ultimately will rule, but yesterday he did say there's no evidence of steroid use by the five players. Certainly, in this era of doping in sport, though, Scott, fans immediately suspect something bad was going down, but as you said, the players will play Sunday. That's especially important for the Vikings. They are in first place in their division. Their two suspended players, these Bohemith(ph) defensive linemen are key to Minnesota's run to the playoffs.

SIMON: Talk about key players. Plaxico Burress, his season may be over. His career with the New York Giants may be over. He may be facing jail time for violating New York's gun laws, not just NFL rules.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely, very serious gun laws. You know, New York City Mayor Bloomberg does not mess around when it comes to loaded guns on the streets of his city, and there's this two-year-old law that mandates a minimum three and a half year sentence for illegal possession of a loaded weapon, and that's the charge against Plaxico Buress, that he was carrying an unlicensed gloc in his trousers at this nightclub. You know, even the sleekest lawyers for Buress might not be able to get around this law. Plus, it probably doesn't help that an angry Mayor Bloomberg said publicly this week that Plaxico Buress should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

SIMON: Yeah. Some kind of passage in the story of O.J. Simpson came to be this week. Of course, he was sentenced to - I think, actually, the legal requirements there - let's just say, a long time in prison. There is still some dispute this morning if it will be nine, if it will be 33. What can we possibly say about O.J. Simpson's story? This was a man who was one of - not only, obviously, the greatest athletes of his time, but a man who was identified as a great image of the sport, sunny personality.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, he was one of the first successful crossover athletes from a great sportsman to, you know, he acted in movies, and he was kind of - he came before kind of when Michael Jordan became not only the athlete but the marketer. You know, the judge said several times that the sentence, which, as you say, is probably at a minimum around nine or ten years, had nothing to do with O.J.'s 1995 acquittal on the double homicide charges, that very famous case that involved the murder of O.J.'s wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

You know, what is certain is this is just a bad ending for a guy who once was on top of the world. He's 61, heading to prison, perhaps for the rest of his life. He's lesson number one for all athletes of today.

SIMON: Of course, it must be noted a lot of people think that it's just fine for his story to end this way, that justice was missed the first time around. But as you say, the judge said that that case had nothing to do with the determinations he had to make now. Tom, thanks very much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: And great to talk to you, Scott.

SIMON: NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman, talking this week about all the sports news, from Plaxico Buress to NFL suspensions to O.J. Simpson. You're listening to Weekend Edition from NPR News.

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