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Saturday Sports: NFL Playoffs, Olympics And Politics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Finally, it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The NFL playoffs on full blast. Who looks good this weekend? And the International Olympic Committee delivers a ruling about what, really, before what could ever happen. We're joined now by ESPN's Howard Bryant. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine. Thank you, my friend. Divisional weekend in the NFL playoffs. Let's start with the NFC. 49ers and Vikings play today, Packers and Seahawks tomorrow. OK, the Pack, is it time for Aaron Rodgers to just win a Super Bowl without any more excuses?

BRYANT: Well, it is amazing that we're looking at him and people - there are a lot of people who believe he's the greatest quarterback of his era on top of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, all of them. But he's been to one Super Bowl, and he's won one Super Bowl. And I think he's going to need another to sort of join that - to join that company.

But Aaron Rodgers is a terrific quarterback. What the Packers have done this year - they really didn't seem to be that good. But all of a sudden, they find themselves with a home game and with a chance to go to the NFC championship game. And so this has been an amazing playoff run, incredibly exciting games and definitely the year - the postseason of the quarterback. And you're looking at the successors to the Patriots now that they're out. There's so many opportunities there for a lot of players.

SIMON: It just occurred to me, is there anybody on the 49ers and Vikings who play today who can remember when they were championship teams?

BRYANT: No. No, not at all.

SIMON: Yeah, let's run the numbers. Yeah.

BRYANT: Except Rodgers, of course, who was there when they beat the Steelers.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And so it's really wide open right now, and you - there's great opportunity for these quarterbacks. We talk about the quarterbacks - whether we're talking about Aaron Rodgers or we're talking about Russell Wilson, who's trying to get to his third Super Bowl, you're talking about Jimmy Garoppolo, traded from the Patriots to the 49ers to lead the 49ers to their first Super Bowl victory since 1995 and appearance since Colin Kaepernick took them there in 2013. And so then you've got the young guys as well in the AFC, looking at guys...

SIMON: Ah, Lamar Jackson.

BRYANT: ...Like Patrick Mahomes...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...And Lamar Jackson, of course. And then the unspoken Ryan Tannehill, who was doing nothing in Miami for all those years. They come into New England with Tennessee, they beat the Patriots. And so he's the unsung guy. But - and Deshaun Watson with Houston - lots of opportunity. The Patriots aren't there. Who's going to be the one to emerge?

I think Patrick Mahomes is the guy. They should have gotten to the Super Bowl last year. It's such a shock that the Patriots got them. That game was amazing, last year's AFC Championship Game. And I think that they are pretty primed, at least, to go head-to-head. I think it's going to be Kansas City and Baltimore in the AFC.

SIMON: OK. International Olympic Committee announced this week it will not allow athletes to protest at the Tokyo Games this summer. The IOC doesn't want what they call, here's a quote, "divisive disruption." Does that include kneeling? How disruptive.

BRYANT: How disruptive is that? It includes kneeling. It includes the iconic fist-raising of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who, by the way, four months ago were inducted into the USOC Hall of Fame...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...With an apology saying we were wrong. So when you're looking at what this is all about, it really is about attacking athletes, attacking protest, attacking - silencing the athletes at a time when you see authoritarianism around the world. You see the protests in Hong Kong, you see China being awarded the Olympics. You see the conflicts with Russia and the Ukraine, and yet...

SIMON: Yep.

BRYANT: ...Russia was awarded the 2014 Sochi Olympics. You see so much corruption around the world. And essentially what's being - what's happening is distortion in so many ways because the Olympics - you look at the 1936 Olympics, Hitler's Olympics there. You look at South Africa being banned for its politics for 20 years. You look at the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Moscow Summer Games and then Russia returning the favor, boycotting the LA Games in 1984. You cannot tell me that sports is not political. There's nothing more political than a state flag.

SIMON: Yeah. Quick question - some athletes will just disregard it, right?

BRYANT: Absolutely. You're already hearing Megan Rapinoe saying you're more upset about the protest than doing something about what we're protesting. And I think it's going to be real interesting more to see who rejects this outright and defies it.

SIMON: ESPN's Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

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


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