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Sports: Selection Sunday Looms, NFL Gets Heat For Draftee Question


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: Hey, doesn't any team want to be number one? College basketball's tournament selection is just a couple weeks away, but three of the top six teams lost this week and another came within just a whisker. Maybe had some help from some friendly reffing. And Rory McIlroy maybe just get hungry for a Slim Jim or something and walk off the course?

Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: OK, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I am fine, thanks. College basketball; let's begin there because Indiana, Duke and Michigan were ranked number one, three and four last Monday, and then they all lost. Is there something in the Gatorade?

BRYANT: I think Gonzaga wants to be number one. Until, of course, they get to number one and they do what everyone else is doing, which is lose. It's amazing. It's an incredible year this year in terms of the parity. We've been talking about this for years; that at point, you were going to feel the effects of all those great young talented players going directly to the NBA, or only sticking around college for one year because of the age restrictions in NBA. And now, you're starting to see the effects. You're starting to see that anybody can win this year. The talent is diluted. We've been waiting for this year, and I think this is finally the year where you're going to get to that NCAA tournament in two weeks, and you may have something that's never happened before, which is a one-seed lose to a sixteen. Because every team seems to be kind of right in the middle of being good. I think Indiana is still the best team in the country, but nothing would surprise me in this tournament coming up.

SIMON: Now, to underscore this, is this the effect of the fact that in the college game now, the top-ranked players, with some exceptions, often stay in school just long enough to get seen by the pros.

BRYANT: Oh, yeah. You have to stay in college or you can't go into the NBA for one year. And so because of that - remember Florida? They won back-to-back championships because they were a four-year team. You had that continuity. You don't have that anymore. The defending national champions, Kentucky, that whole team went to the NBA last year, and so John Calipari is starting from scratch. And so, UConn, Georgetown - Michigan State is one of the few teams where you still get your good top ten team and you still get to keep four-year players. But for the most part, every coach in the game realizes that their best players are going to stay for about a year. Even Duke, you're going to get great players stay for about a year and then they're out of here. And when that happens, then you're going to just get as much parity as we're getting this year.

SIMON: Switching to football, three players in the NFL draft Combine have reported that at least one NFL team has asked them, quote, "Do you like girls?" Now this is 2013.

BRYANT: It is 2013.

SIMON: We live in the times when the personnel manager of a hardware store might be bounced for saying something like that. How does that happen in the NFL?

BRYANT: Well, because the NFL's a closed business. That's the first thing. It's a private industry, and they've been able to do whatever they've wanted to do like a lot of businesses. But also it has to do more with the culture. It has to do with the fact that in professional sports, we still - and especially in American - in the four major sports, we have not had an openly gay player. And it's one of those areas in the locker room where there is outstanding amounts of tension. Some players say they wouldn't mind having a gay teammate, and others, like Chris Culliver during the Super Bowl, was forced to apologize to the fans for saying, I don't, you know, I don't do gays, and if there was a gay player on our team, they'd have to get out of here. So, if you are in a situation where you're being interviewed as for potential employer in the NFL, you know, it's a very, very, very bad thing to me. I think it's not illegal, it should be illegal...

SIMON: You want to put yourself across in an interview...

BRYANT: No. And why would you answer that question if you were gay? Why would you put yourself that position? In fact, you're opening yourself up. I think the NFL has opened itself up to a lot of potential legality issues here simply because at some point, you may have a player who says, well, look, the Patriots really, really liked me until me interview and I told them that I was gay, or I didn't give them the answers they wanted. And all of a sudden, I didn't get a job, or I wasn't drafted. So, I think it's a very slippery slope.

SIMON: And finally, Rory McIlroy, number one ranked golfer in the world walked off the course after the eighth green of the Honda Classic in Florida yesterday, saying he just couldn't concentrate, or maybe he had a toothache, though someone saw him eating a sandwich. Does this violate...

BRYANT: You can still eat a sandwich if you have a toothache.

SIMON: You have to have nourishment, after all. But does this violate some kind of code in professional sports?

BRYANT: Well, you're not supposed to quit, and it looked like he was quitting. And I think it's obvious. What it underscores is that Rory McIlroy's head's not right. He changed clubs this year. The pressure of being the best golfer in the world, as supposedly being the number player in the world has clearly gotten to him. He's not playing well. And you see it sometimes - you never see it in team sports because, obviously, you don't want to quit on your team. But individual sports, you see it every now and again. But it was very rare, unorthodox, but what it really does underscore is that he's not right and he's not playing well, and he's got to get it together.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.