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2016 In Sports: Overdue Victories; When Games Got Political


I think I've waited all year to say it's time for sports.


SIMON: It's the last day of 2016, the greatest year in the history of sports since, oh, 1908. Howard Bryant of ESPN and espn.com joins us. Hi there, Howard. How are you?

HOWARD BRYANT: Goodness gracious, Scott. What happened in 1908? Were you there?

SIMON: (Laughter) No, I wasn't, but - no and neither was any other Cub fan. What do you think 2016 will be remembered for?

BRYANT: Well, obviously, 2016 will be remembered for...

SIMON: And don't skip the obvious, OK?

BRYANT: And don't skip the obvious. Maybe we'll save the best for last. How about that? 2016 was a tremendous year obviously, when you look at it in terms of protest. Colin Kaepernick stole the year in terms of making the link between the American ideal and what was happening in the African-American community with regards to police brutality. You have LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul at the ESPY's talking about protests and the soccer player Megan Rapinoe as well, standing with the protests. So you have this year, once again, where activism in sports come together. And I think you're going to see more of that in 2017.

However, I think one of the great things about this sport, about this industry is that the game on the field once again always seems to rise to the top. It always saves it from the people who play it and run it and sometimes the people who watch it. It's almost like we had two different years. You started the year with Peyton Manning winning the Super Bowl and going out on top, and you had Chris Jenkins with Villanova winning the national championship on a 30-foot buzzer beater which was tremendous. And you're thinking that the year couldn't get any better than that, and then it was really a one-story year with the Golden State Warriors winning 73 games and pretty much turning the NBA into the junior varsity. And then, of course, they had a spectacular rise and a spectacular fall. And then...

SIMON: Cleveland rocks.

BRYANT: ...LeBron James wins the championship.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And Cleveland wins, and Scott Simon is very happy about that. So it's great. On the one hand, you thought that the year was going to go one way and then it went another. And then, of course, culminating with the Olympics and Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles and so many things happened, obviously, leading up into the World Series.

And you and I had this conversation all year about the Chicago Cubs finally being the best team in baseball. And all they had to do was go out and play to their capabilities, and they were going to end this streak of a hundred years of not winning.

SIMON: A hundred and eight years, Howard.

BRYANT: Hundred and eight years. Oh, I don't want to short anybody those eight years. And it looked as though that this was going to be inevitable, but that postseason was one of the greatest postseasons any of us had ever seen. They were on the verge of going out every round. They could have lost to the Giants in the first round. They went out to California. They were down 2-1 to the Dodgers and came back. They were down 3-1 in the World Series which was one of the great World Series culminating in one of the greatest games sevens ever. So we had a really phenomenal full year on the field and off the field.

SIMON: What do you see ahead for 2017?

BRYANT: I think you're going to see, well, obviously, you never know what's going to happen on the field. You have to wait, as we say. When people say to me, hey, Howard, who's going to win? I don't know. That's why they play, and so we wait and see what's going to happen. We're going to be surprised, no question about that. But I definitely think in terms of social movements, I think you're going to see more of athletes showing their power, revealing how much power and how much influence they actually have, these college athletes recognizing now that eventually this system has to fall apart where you have to pay these guys.

At some point, if you have the best players in college football choosing not to play in the most important games in the bowl games because they want to save themselves for the NFL draft and for their future, their financial future, at some point, the college system is going down. There's no way that this thing can can sustain itself if - the networks are not going to pay to watch Alabama play the second string.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of espn.com. Talk to you next year, my friend. Take care.

BRYANT: Happy New Year, Scott.

SIMON: Happy New Year to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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