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Saturday Sports: NFL Protests And Trump, Baseball Payrolls



The NFL regular season doesn't open until September 6 but football already making news, and we'll get to this exciting baseball season. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Let me ask you. Preseason has begun. There were a number of players who made a statement during the national anthem, several raised a fist or waited off the field. President Trump says they should be suspended without pay. He doesn't get to make that choice, we ought to note. Why are we still talking about this? I mean, players have a right to do whatever they want. The NFL hasn't reached any kind of policy. So how does this become an issue?

BRYANT: Well, it becomes an issue because it's an issue that they - they being the owners - have revived in - for some reason in trying to appease the president. This is a deal. Last year, last December, the owners and the players had agreed to an $89 million settlement, as you would call it, to agree and partnership on social justice issues. And then all of a sudden, the owners decided in the offseason to institute a national anthem policy and then to allow President Trump to attack the players.

And then you had Jerry Jones come out, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He comes out and attacks the players. And so now the players have their backs up. And so what you thought was a settlement, what you thought was - and essentially the players - the owners had won and the players were going to lean in, if you will, and try to work within the system and work with the owners, even though Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reed didn't have jobs. All of a sudden now the players feel offended and all of a sudden they are going back.

This reminds me a lot, Scott, of the steroid era in baseball where you're starting a new season every year. Instead of talking about the sport, you're talking about something else and this - now we're talking about protest and rightfully on the part of the players because this is - these are issues that they have been fighting for and haven't gone away. But in terms of the actual relationship between the owners and the players, this is going to be very interesting because the players haven't had an issue that they were going to galvanize around in terms of their relationship laborwise with the owners. Maybe this is it.

SIMON: I do want to get to baseball. A final few weeks of...

BRYANT: Good. You should get to baseball. It's baseball season.

SIMON: Well - and we've got time to talk about the American League - truly a tale of two cities. The Red Sox - highest payroll in the Major Leagues - 40 games over 500 - eight in front of the Yanks in the East.

BRYANT: Nine - they won last night.

SIMON: OK. Thanks very much. The Oakland A's - and according to a payroll tracker - they have the 28th largest payroll in baseball, third from the bottom. They're 20 games over 500 and challenging the Houston Astros for the lead in the NL West. They're doing it in different ways.

BRYANT: They're doing it in different ways. And once again, the A's came in - this was supposed to be yet another loss season. They started the season with about $65 million or $62 million payroll. They raised it up to about $65 million - big spenders that they are. But Bob Melvin is probably the best manager in baseball. And this team - they just fight, and they play hard, and they play together. And one of the interesting things about this team is they're a young team and a lot of the guys came up together through the minor leagues. And you could sort of tell that they enjoy playing the game. They don't care what the optics are in terms of them not supposed to be - not supposed to being a championship-level team. But they're out there fighting.

And then the Red Sox, on the other hand, are a $200 million team, and they are challenging the best records of all time. They've got to 82 wins, and we're in mid-August, so they have a real shot at catching the 116-win Mariners of 2001. It's pretty remarkable.

SIMON: You got to say - I mean, people have been saying for years a Boston Red Sox-Chicago Cubs World Series.

BRYANT: (Laughter) It could happen. However, both teams are juggernauts now. Both teams have championships. So it's not quite like it would have been, say, in 1995.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine, thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.