Saturday Sports: NFL Preseason, Lindsay Whalen

Aug 18, 2018
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JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

Time now for sports.

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LUDDEN: It's a new season for the NFL. But it's facing some of the same controversies. And basketball great Lindsay Whalen may be retiring from playing, but she's not going far. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us this week. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Jennifer - good to talk to you.

LUDDEN: Always good to talk to you - it is week two of NFL preseason. And already we're seeing a few players continue those protests during the national anthem. They began in 2016 to draw attention to police mistreatment of minorities and social inequality. So the league and the players union, they just - they still can't figure out how to agree on this.

GOLDMAN: They cannot. You know, they've been holding meetings for a few weeks. The discussions are confidential. So we don't know what's being proposed. But you hope there's some creative thought going on beyond some resolution that either says the players can protest during the anthem or they can't because people are so divided on this issue of protesting during the anthem. You're bound to anger whichever side appears to have lost.

LUDDEN: Well, someone had an idea. Former player and Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy suggested something this week. Give players airtime.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. He's been saying in interviews this week that if he were still coaching, he'd want to help protesting players get their message out there the best way. And he says demonstrating during the anthem is not the best way. This message of social change just isn't getting across to fans who dismiss the protesting as anti-flag or anti-military or anti-country. Now Dungy says, as you mentioned, he'd give players time during his weekly coach's press conference. All the media would be gathered. The players could talk about their concerns and possible solutions to societal problems.

And Dungy says they'd have a much bigger platform this way than at stadiums where they're kneeling or raising a fist during the anthem. ESPN announced yesterday, for a second straight year, it won't broadcast the national anthem during Monday Night Football games. NBC didn't broadcast the anthem before the first preseason game this season. So if networks are going to do this and take away a national platform for players, Dungy's idea appears to make even more sense.

LUDDEN: Now, the player that started all this, Colin Kaepernick, he is still out of the NFL. Is that an ongoing issue for some players?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, I was told this week, Jennifer, it's a big issue. And it fuels a lot of the anger players are feeling toward management. Kaepernick has filed a lawsuit saying owners are colluding against him, keeping him out of the league. Tony Dungy, who we were just talking about, is one of many who thinks it's a long shot that Kaepernick gets back to the NFL since Kaepernick is such a polarizing figure. So the owners are going to have to figure out a way to deal with player anger that may linger because of that.

LUDDEN: OK. Now for listeners who do care about the football - about football the sport, we are...

GOLDMAN: Oh, yes.

LUDDEN: There is that. We're starting to see some major players take to the field as we get close to the season here - Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, New England's Tom Brady, who just turned the ripe old age of 41. How's he looking?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Old man...

LUDDEN: So young (laughter).

GOLDMAN: He's looking pretty sharp. He's looking sharp. This week, he helped the Patriots beat the team. New England lost to, in the last Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles. Brady completed 19 of his 26 passes he threw for two touchdowns. Sure. It's only week two of the preseason. But he looks like he's ready to go and defy age for another season. Aaron Rodgers, who you mentioned, coming back from an injury field last season - he threw a touchdown pass in Green Bay's win over Pittsburgh. So two marquee NFL players gave their fans a little something to feel good about.

LUDDEN: All right. Switching to basketball, tell us about Minnesota Lynx's Lindsay Whalen.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. The great WNBA point guard announced this week she's retiring after 15 seasons. She was first with Connecticut. And since 2010, she has been with the Minnesota Lynx where she helped the Lynx win four titles and really helped turn them into the league's most dominant team. She's a great tough guard, a great intuitive player.

And for all her accolades - five-time WNBA all-star or two-time Olympic gold medalist - one word, one place defines her best. And that's Minnesota. She was born there, played and starred at the University of Minnesota, became a key professional player there. And, Jennifer, once this WNBA season ends - and tomorrow's the last day of the regular season - Whalen takes over full-time as head coach of - you guessed it - the University of Minnesota women's basketball team.

LUDDEN: Happy for them. All right, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.