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Saturday Sports: Golf, Politics And The Presidency


Administrations come and go, but now it's time for sports.


SIMON: President Trump is a golfer, so was President Obama, who was mostly a devoted basketball player. Does sports get politicized this year, too? NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us.

Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: There's been a fair amount of division in American sport over President Trump, hasn't there? Ranging in LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, on the one hand...


SIMON: ...And then - let me get you to talk about Jim Brown, interesting figure now.

GOLDMAN: Very interesting case. You know, considered the greatest running back in NFL history, known for his activism when he joined other prominent African-American athletes like Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as you mentioned, all speaking out during the civil rights movement. But, you know, Brown's form of activism was always different. He was more about practicality than protest. And it led to his controversial criticism of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and more recently Congressman John Lewis.

Journalist Dave Zirin wrote this week about spending time with Brown a couple of years ago and learning more about Brown's attitudes, which focused on building an economic base in African-American communities - business ownership, entrepreneurship as a way to resist racism. And Brown has spent many years doing kind of roll-your-sleeves-up work in those communities. And this apparently is what he believes the new president will encourage after having a recent meeting with Trump.

SIMON: And he's going to be talking about it, I gather, this week at a forum with a lot of other interesting people.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, yeah. He's scheduled to take part in an event at San Jose State University. It's a gathering to discuss athlete activism. And there will be, you know, traditional liberal voices from men like Dr. Harry Edwards and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And it'll be interesting to hear what comes out of it, perhaps some constructive dialogue that could be applied outside the world of sports.

SIMON: Tom, I got to tell you, I was at the White House this week with the Chicago Cubs.

GOLDMAN: Lucky guy.

SIMON: And - yes, indeed. And I - President Obama said something, in what might be the last remarks of his administration, I want to note. The president said - the last official remarks of his administration, he said, quote, "sometimes people wonder, well, why are you spending time on sports? There's other stuff going on throughout our history. Sports has had this power to bring us together even when the country is divided. Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but that ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we were." The president said, there's a direct line between Jackie Robinson and me standing here. There's a direct line between people loving Ernie Banks and then the city being able to come together and work together in one spirit.

GOLDMAN: That's nice...

SIMON: I told - I told his speech writers, the best presidential address I've heard since Gettysburg.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) And I understand, like a great basketball move by the president, it was improvised.

SIMON: It was improvised indeed, yeah. The speechwriter told that to us. We got to talk about the NFL this weekend, Steelers versus Patriots, Green Bay versus the Falcons. A lot of people would love to see Brady and Rodgers - versus Rodgers in the Super Bowl.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, that may very well happen. I think Brady's a pretty strong bet, you know, hard to imagine Pittsburgh coming into Foxborough, Mass., and beating New England on its home field. Pittsburgh's running back Le'Veon Bell has been the strength of the Pittsburgh offense. But he's going up against an amazing and kind of unheralded run defense of the Patriots. Atlanta-Green Bay - man, we've got visions of both teams scoring in the 40s or 50s. That's going to be a really exciting game, hard to call. And, you know what? We're out of time, so I don't have to.

SIMON: (Laughter) Way to vamp. NPR's Tom Goldman, working the clock. Thanks very much, my friend.

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

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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