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Saturday Sports: NFL Protests, Giancarlo Stanton's Home Runs


Last night, at high school games across the country, student athletes knelt and locked arms in the latest demonstrations during the national anthem. And Giancarlos Stanton of the Marlins, still a homer away from 60. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine joins us. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: President Trump's condemnation of athletes who kneel during the national anthem only seems to have fueled more demonstrations, hasn't it?

BRYANT: Yeah. Well, that's what fuel does. It doesn't diffuse things. It ignites them. And so when you insult people and when you trample rights that they feel are basic to them, they're going to push back, especially this group of people. You're dealing with competitive professional athletes. And their response when they get hit is to hit back.

SIMON: Gestures can touch people. Demonstrations can make a point. But where do athletes and these demonstrations go from here? I mean, are athletes going to kneel for the national anthem for the rest of their careers or until what happens?

BRYANT: Well, I think that's one of the problems with the mislabeling of all this. When you refer to it as an anthem protest, that would suggest that you're going to protest until there's no more anthem. And that's really not the case. This is an injustice protest. So to me, what I would suggest when I talk to the athletes who kneel and talk to the players who support this - it seems to me that you're looking for a moment when you're going to have less injustice. When that's the - that is the - I think that's the goal. That's the measure. And when you have maybe some type of criminal justice reform or when you have more types of convictions on police officers who do things - look at what's happening in St. Louis right now. You still have two weeks worth of protests. I think when you start to see some movement there. You'll see some movement from the players. But this is an injustice protest. It's not an anthem protest.

SIMON: Let's do talk about sports - other sports. Let's put it that way.

BRYANT: We can do that, too. Yes.

SIMON: Other aspects of sports, yeah - last weekend, in the regular season in baseball, Giancarlos Stanton has about eight more swings to make it to 60 or 61 home runs. Does it look good?

BRYANT: I think it looks good for him. But I think what's hard for me - and we talked about this a few weeks ago - is where's the buzz? Where's the excitement? This is a major, major event. And this is one of these repercussions of the steroid era where I think that people just don't look at this. If you're a baseball fan of a certain generation, it is hard to see a guy do what Giancarlos Stanton has done and to not have the entire country be excited about it. But that's the price that we've paid. And he's paying for it.

SIMON: I gather Don Mattingly, the manager, is going to move him up to the leadoff spot. Did you see that?

BRYANT: Give him more swings, exactly - and give him a chance to break the record. And he's an amazing player. It would be great to see.

SIMON: National or - forgive me - American League East in baseball - Red Sox - what? They've got a two game lead and only two games left?

BRYANT: Unbelievable. They had a five-game lead a week ago. And now suddenly, it's two games with two games to play. And the New York Yankees have a chance to win the division. If the Red Sox lose both of these games to Houston and the Yankees beat Toronto for the next two, then suddenly it's the Yankees who win the division in what would be a pretty amazing collapse for the Red Sox. They got to get one of these two games.

SIMON: And then with the playoffs coming up, the Washington somethings-or-others are going to play the...

BRYANT: Nationals, Scott (laughter).

SIMON: ...World champion Chicago Cubs. I can't keep track of everything. I'm a busy man. In the first round of the playoffs, this could be a great and definitive series, couldn't it?

BRYANT: It needs to be. Well, one, the defending champs don't want to go out in the first round. And two, Dusty Baker doesn't have a contract, and this team is supposed to be World Series-bound. So a lot on the line next week in Washington.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN - thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEAL SCHON SONG, "TUMBLEWEEDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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