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Saturday sports: Tampa Bay in NHL championship; Griner honorary WNBA all-star

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIS: The Tampa Bay Lightning still alive. Brittney Griner named WNBA honorary All-Star. And the fallout over a Saudi-backed golf league continues. Joining me now is Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning. How are you?

DAVIS: I'm good. Let's start with hockey. It's Stanley Cup finals, and the Tampa Bay Lightning lives to see another day. They beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 yesterday and move on to Game 6 tomorrow. But, Howard, backs against the wall still, right?

BRYANT: Backs against the wall still for Tampa Bay, but they are still the two-time defending champions. And as I always say, these types of teams that know how to win, they can't be killed. You have to actually finally beat them. And I think last night everyone in Denver was waiting for a party. They were waiting for a championship that they haven't had in 20 years. And Tampa Bay's just a great team. They're a good, tough team. And they put the party on hold. Now, if Tampa - if the Avalanche want to win it, they've got to go down to Florida and try to get it there, or we've got a Game 7 winner-take-all in Denver.

DAVIS: Meanwhile, the WNBA named Brittney Griner an honorary All-Star this week. The league's trying to increase awareness of her case. She remains detained in Russia over alleged drug possession charges. What does this tell you about the kind of risks women athletes are taking around the world, with fewer opportunities to make money here?

BRYANT: Well, it's a huge question. And I think that obviously you don't want the Brittney Griner situation to fade into the rest of the news because you have an American citizen who is still being detained for political purposes. And that is No. 1, central, the biggest deal happening right now. And you can see how the tactics are changing. First, the attitude was not to draw attention to the Griner situation and to allow the process to work, preferably in her favor. And then things changed. She's been detained since February 17, and even the State Department began to refer to her as essentially a political prisoner. And so that change - now we're starting to see much, much, much more vocal responses from the WNBA, from activists in the United States.

The problem is that it has not really moved the needle very much. But the one thing that is really important - you've seen it, whether it's Sue Bird, Layshia Clarendon, some of the more prominent WNBA players - one of the things that you have seen is attention drawn to their situation, to the WNBA situation. Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets is - got a decision to opt in or out of a $36.9 million contract...

DAVIS: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Whereas Brittney Griner has to travel around the world to try and make a living. And so she was making more money, just like very - a lot of female athletes making more money overseas, and then facing much more risk because their salaries are not very high in the United States.

DAVIS: Well, let's talk about this, because we're talking about money in sports. In golf, Brooks Koepka and Abraham Ancer, two players ranked in the top 20 of the PGA Tour, they just announced they're going to join the Saudi-backed golf league. This is related to what we're talking about - right? - the economics of these sports.

BRYANT: Once again - absolutely. Once again, when you start to look at this question, we talk about championships and wins and losses and the scoreboard and fans, but this is a labor situation. And this is the - what's happening in golf right now is a power play between the players and the PGA Tour and this new tournament.

DAVIS: All right. That's Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. His latest book is "Rickey: The Life And Legend Of An American Original." Thanks, Howard.

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

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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