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Jeter’s feel-good ending is ‘necessary tonic’ for sports fans

At bat for the last time on his home field, Yankees player Derek Jeter made the winning run of the game. That emotional farewell comes at a time when pro sports and athletes have been in the headlines for troubling and criminal behavior. Jeffrey Brown talks to Christine Brennan of USA Today and ABC News and Mike Pesca of Slate and NPR about Jeter’s closer, plus a scandal in sports opinion journalism.

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    It was an emotional night in the Bronx, as one of baseball's biggest stars delivered an inspired farewell, coming at a time when professional sports and athletes have been in the headlines for troubling or even criminal behavior.

    Jeffrey Brown has our look.


    It was the fairy tale ending to a career that's brought universal acclaim and admiration. On his last at bat on his home field at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter drove in the winning run against the Baltimore Orioles.

  • MAN:

    With a walk-off single, Derek Jeter!


    Jeter began his career in 1995 and has played 2,745 games, all as a Yankee. He holds the sixth highest hit total in baseball history, won five World Series rings, and was selected as an All-Star 14 times, an incredible record that he discussed at the end of the game.

  • DEREK JETER, New York Yankees:

    I would say a little prayer before every game. And I basically just said thank you, because this is all I have ever wanted to do. And not too many people get an opportunity to do it. And it was above and beyond anything I have ever dreamt of.


    Tributes to his clutch play have poured in throughout his final season. Commercials like this one showed fans, rival players, and celebrities paying their respects. Jeter's final game will be on Sunday against the Red Sox in Boston.

    Quite a night in New York, but also other kinds of continuing drama in the world of sports this week.

    We're joined by Christine Brennan, national sports columnist for USA Today and commentator for ABC News, and Mike Pesca, host of Slate's daily news and discussion podcast The Gist. He's also a contributor to NPR.

    Well, to Derek Jeter first.

    Mike, it's funny that he's ending his career in Boston. As a Red Sox fan, I know that he's destroyed our hopes perhaps more than anyone. And yet he's respected there and everywhere. Why?

  • MIKE PESCA, National Public Radio:

    Yes, because, amidst the morass of immorality that sports is — oh, I was just unintentionally maybe poetic there — but Derek Jeter is just solid. He just is reliable.

    And, you know, he's a little bit boring. That was his advice to Gary Sheffield when he became a Yankee, be boring. But he's boring in kind of the great ways that fathers will nudge their sons, and say, look at this guy. Look at how he runs it out on every play. Look at how he inspires his teammates.

    And, yes, the commercials have gotten a little bit crazy, and the hype about Jeter, just like everything with the Yankees and sports these days, has gone over the top. But, fundamentally, there he is delivering a game-winning hit in the only game he has ever played in Yankee Stadium when the playoffs weren't a possibility.

    So the guy's a winner and the guy does it the right way, and it's a necessary tonic, given everything else we're going to talk about.


    Well, Christine, you do sort of have to see it against the everything else, right? What do you think is the key?


    Oh, absolutely, Jeff.

    And that finish, it's a storybook finish. People will talk about that as long as they talk about the New York Yankees, that last — that hit, single, win the game, walk off, done, leave Yankee Stadium and never return. That's — Ted Williams did that at Fenway Park in 1960. With his last at bat, he hit a home run. That is still the stuff of legend in baseball.

    And you're right. At this time, with the NFL domestic violence story raging, and the utter disgust that so many of us have for the behavior not only of the — the alleged behavior, in some cases, of some of these athletes, but also the league, the NFL, and where are other leagues on this, to think that there's a feel-good story, a 40-year-old guy spent his entire career with one team, and he ends that way, that's pretty good stuff, and comes at the exact right moment in sports in this country.


    You know, Mike, there's always the other issue in this when you have a major, aging star, when to quit. When is the right moment, right? Some stay too long.


    He nailed it. He had a terrible year this year statistically. The Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs early. And he got paid $12 million, and people criticized him.

    I just want to do the math on this. The ticket brokers say the average ticket price was $850 to his last game. Yankee Stadium holds 50,000 seats. Guess what, $43 million worth of tickets. So he went out on this great note. The guy's timing — they don't call him captain clutch by accident.


    All right, I want to move to another subject that's out there. It's really from the sublime to something quite else.

    And this follows the suspension of football star Ray Rice after a video became public of him punching his then fiancee. On Wednesday night, this Wednesday night, Bill Simmons, a popular columnist for ESPN, speaking on his podcast, accused NFL commissioner Roger Goodell of lying about whether he'd seen or known of the video previously.

    Let's listen to part of that.


    I just think not enough is being made out the fact that they knew about the tape and they knew what was on it.

    Goodell, if he didn't know what was on that tape, he is a liar. I'm just saying it. He's lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him on a lie-detector test, that guy would fail.



    And for all these people to pretend they didn't know is such (EXPLETIVE DELETED). It really is. It's such (EXPLETIVE DELETED). And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted.


    Well, so, after that, ESPN, his employer, suspended Simmons three weeks.

    Christine, what's your reaction?


    You know, Jeff, if I were to launch into some profane tirade, I would expect that USA Today or whoever my employer was on that broadcast, I would expect to have them tell me that it's time to take some time off.

    What a missed opportunity for Bill Simmons. You know, this conversation is so important in our country. And here, he's got his podcast, and instead of having an intelligent conversation about Roger Goodell, about whether he does belong in the NFL and should keep his job or not, which is a valid point to be bringing up — so many of us are talking about that issue — instead of having this conversation in an intelligent manner, he goes off and does that?

    I'm sorry. I just think that's a huge missed opportunity for him. And he knows better. And I would expect to have the same thing happen to me if I did something like that.


    And yet, Mike, a lot of reaction against ESPN, and people pointing out that the suspension of Simmons was three weeks, which was longer than the original suspension of Ray Rice.


    Yes, I think I disagree with Christine, because I think that Bill Simmons — OK, first of all, let's not weep for him. I'm sure he's going to be paid. He runs the Grantland imprint. Like a publisher might have an imprint, he runs Grantland. He's quite well-compensated.

    He's not just popular. I would say he's the most popular sports opinion invoice out there. And I think this brandishes his credentials as an outsider. And I also think he knew exactly what he was doing. The clip you didn't play, he dared the bosses to suspend them. And they did.

    And I think it makes them look bad, because it's not as if — profanity aside — and, by the way, podcasts are a different form than the medium. And you're right. USA might not like that as much as ESPN does. ESPN allows a little bleeping in their podcasts.

    But I just think that ESPN has reported many facts that seem to indicate that Roger Goodell is being much less than truthful in this matter. And if he states it like that, a little bit raw, a little bit emotional, I think that's kind of in keeping with the forum of a podcast and the brand of Bill Simmons.

    I think it was an overreaction with ESPN, who is in leagues with the NFL, who gets paid. They have a $15 billion contract with the NFL. And without the business considerations, I don't see him getting suspended for that long.


    Well, just in our last minute, Christine, I mean, one thing, whatever you think about this, one thing it does show certainly is the fraught relationship between a media company like ESPN and the NFL, so much money involved, the partnership,and yet trying to report on it at the same time.


    That's right, Jeff. And we better get used to it, because it's here to stay.

    And these crossed and these blurred lines, that's where we are in media, not just obviously sports media, but all of us. And I do think that we're going to be dealing with these issues from now on. I think Bill Simmons made it really easy for ESPN to sit him out for a few weeks.

    And bottom line is, ESPN can control who they have on their air. But it does lend to those questions about the decision-making and when you're in business with the league and then you also have journalists.

    I will say ESPN, who I have worked with over the years and for over the years, has done a pretty good job of keeping that separate. A few examples come to mind, and maybe this another one. But it's a conversation we are going to have as long as there's sports television and issues in sports. There's no doubt about that.


    All right, we will continue.

    Christine Brennan, Mike Pesca, thank you both very much.


    Thank you.



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