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Saturday Sports: NFL and gambling, NHL allows players to compete in the Olympics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The NFL puts a bear hug on Las Vegas. Outrage over Jackie Robinson's stolen and burnt statue. And NHL players back to the Olympics. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Michele, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Super Bowl is next weekend in Las Vegas, I hear. But the NFL's got a full week ahead of events, receptions, celebrations and, I'm sure, some deep soul searching about this new honeymoon they have with legalized gambling. Now, the commissioner Roger Goodell...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

SIMON: That's a special friend behind us, isn't it?

STEELE: It's definitely not Roger Goodell.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Oh, come on, Mr. Commissioner. Is that - well, none of our business. We've gone to the dogs on this segment already. In any event...

STEELE: Who let the dogs out? I did, Scott.

SIMON: Who, who? All right. On Monday, he's going to have his press conference, not the traditional Friday. And it won't be open to all journalists. Is he trying to avoid some questions?

STEELE: (Imitating bark). Well, when Roger Goodell barks - I mean talks - talks, people listen, right? He's the commissioner of the biggest sports league in the whole country, whether it's Monday or Friday. And in advance of some of the questions he might get, Scott, on Monday at that State of the League press conference, you know, the league has sent out a memo. They're doing this to ensure the game, the integrity of the game. They sent a memo to all league staff saying, you cannot gamble on sports in Vegas. You might be in Vegas, and what happens here stays here, as they say, but not gambling, and not if you work for the NFL. And if you work for the Chiefs or the Niners, Scott, you can't even play casino games until the Super Bowl is over. So, you know, you're not going to run into Travis Kelce at Caesars...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...Playing baccarat.

SIMON: Lots of room service. Look - a terrible story. Authorities in Wichita, Kan., say they've located a statue of Jackie Robinson that was stolen last week, but it has been found dismantled and burned - a genuinely heinous crime. But it sounds like many people have come together to put Jackie's statue back up.

STEELE: Yeah. It's really one of the more depraved stories that I've heard recently. That bronze statue in Wichita, it was in a park where kids play baseball, Scott. And the statue had been commissioned originally by a nonprofit organization called League 42, and they serve a lot of low-income youth in the area through its baseball league. Well, Major League Baseball is stepping up here, and they say all 30 clubs are going to help replace the statue, and - get this - they're going to provide ongoing support for League 42. The first game for League 42's Youth Baseball League is April 15 - as you well know, you wrote the book - Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball.

SIMON: NHL announced yesterday it's going to be sending hockey players back to compete in the Olympics. This hasn't happened since the 2014 Sochi Games. Good news for fans and players, isn't it?

STEELE: Yeah. This is cool. You know, the NHL has been reluctant. The Olympics, of course, happen in the middle of their season. Guys can get hurt. But after serious bargaining with the players' association - players really wanted this - players will get to compete at the 2026 and 2030 games. And it's great news. If you're a hockey fan, you want to see...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...The best players in the world compete head-to-head for their country. And, Scott, Finland brought home the gold...

SIMON: Yup.

STEELE: ...In the last Winter Games. We'll see what Team USA and Team Canada have to say about that.

SIMON: Some important cultural news, speaking of hockey. NHL All-Star game this afternoon, each of the four teams chosen on Thursday in an all-star draft with celebrity co-captains including Michael Buble, the singer, who explained his executive state of mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL BUBLE: My buddy told me this is just a microdose of mushrooms, and he was lying. So I'll be honest. I thought I was in "Blades Of Glory" for most of the time that I was out there until it sort of settled down, and then I realized, holy [expletive], I'm at the NHL All-Star Game.

SIMON: My God, what a wonderful moment. Now, he said - he told a reporter after the game he was just joking. But whatever influences, should be a fun game to watch, right?

STEELE: Well, you know, Buble went with all Vancouver Canucks on his team. That's his favorite team, including the head coach. Now, you can't go wrong drafting from an all-star pool. The format is really interesting. You've got four squads playing against each other, three on three, which I love.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: It's jam packed with action, 10-minute halves. So sort of team one against team two, team three against team four, and then the winners of those games compete for the trophy. I really like that format. It's this afternoon. But I think, Scott, all eyes are going to be on Michael Buble...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...Who I think is going to have a great time no matter what.

SIMON: It sounds like he's committed to that, you know?

STEELE: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: Yes.

STEELE: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: So thanks very much. Michele Steele of ESPN.

STEELE: My dog says hello.

SIMON: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.