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Saturday Sports: NFL Teams Face New Consequences For Unvaccinated Players

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: They built it, and the White Sox and Yankees came. And the NFL throws a flag on teams as unvaccinated players cause COVID-19 outbreaks. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: I'm fine. I loved that game...

BRYANT: (Laughter) Of course you did.

SIMON: ...On a diamond carved out of a cornfield in Iowa. Ninth inning won by Tim Anderson of the Pale Hose who hit a two-run homer into the tall stalks. I loved it. MLB says they'll be back next year. Can I tell you my plan?

BRYANT: Tell me your plan.

SIMON: I think they ought to play a game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham.

BRYANT: Rickwood Field, a legendary, legendary Negro League field where Willie Mays played back in 1948...

SIMON: For the Birmingham Black...

BRYANT: ...For the Birmingham Black Barons.

SIMON: Exactly. Yeah.

BRYANT: Absolutely. Yeah, I thought it was great. I thought it was really interesting in a lot of ways. Obviously, we criticize baseball for trying so hard to be cool. And as we all know, if you have to try to be cool, you're probably not, right? So...

SIMON: (Laughter) We say that as fathers, yes.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Exactly. And so I understood it. I also understood the criticisms that how can you be modern and be forward-thinking when you're doing a tie-in to a movie that came out in 1989, and a lot of the players weren't even born when that movie came out. I get it. But I also understand, too, that baseball has something really, really special. And baseball needs to lean into what makes it special. And one of the things that makes it special is that baseball movies carry a certain nostalgia there in the American vein, as David Halberstam used to say, in a way that other sports aren't. So I thought it was kind of cool that they tried to tap into that.

SIMON: Chicago White Sox have been one of the great overlooked stories of the season including by me. When Tony La Russa was tapped out of retirement to manage, lots of voices said, oh, he's too old, the players won't get him. This morning, they're in first place by 12 games in the AL Central.

BRYANT: Yeah, and it's a great story, obviously, because the White Sox are a good team. And this is the thing from last year. You really didn't know who was a really good team because they only played 60 games. So when the White Sox made the playoffs, you didn't know, OK, were they really a 60-game team? And would they have fallen apart in the other 102 games? Or what was it going to be? And when La Russa got hired, I didn't feel that. I felt like - he's Tony La Russa. I mean, he's second in - he's second in wins all-time in the history of Major League Baseball behind Connie Mack.

I mean, look at the company he's keeping. Wherever Tony La Russa has gone, he's won. I think the criticism from me when it came to La Russa wasn't so much that he wasn't going to fit in. It was that why are you handing a guy who hasn't managed in a decade of a playoff-level, perhaps championship-level team, at a time when we're talking about giving new voices a chance? You say you want to be modern, and then you go out and hire Tony La Russa. So that was sort of the criticism. But they are a very good team, and this is a great opportunity for Tony to win yet another championship.

SIMON: And not to in any way shortchange them, but the San Francisco Giants are in first place by five games in the NL West ahead of that multinational behemoth called the LA Dodgers.

BRYANT: Hundred percent underestimating the Giants - nobody was talking about the Giants this year. Nobody expected them to do anything, never mind having 75 wins, the best record in baseball. They've won six games in a row. The thing I love about what the Giants are doing is that they're doing it very similarly to what they did in 2010, which was that ensemble cast, a whole bunch of guys maybe you haven't heard of who all come together and win ballgames. And you've got pieces of the old legacy. You've got Buster Posey. You've got Brandon Crawford. But now you have your guy Kris Bryant there as well.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of the great Carl Yastrzemski, really, really good story. And they're not going anywhere.

SIMON: Is the NFL really going to make NFL teams forfeit games if they can't be played 'cause of COVID?

BRYANT: Well, I'll believe it when I see it. I don't know how they're going to mandate this. I think that they're not mandating vaccinations. And so we'll see. There's a whole lot of talk versus enforcement, but right now, they seem to be in enforcement mode. We'll see what happens.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much for being with us.

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