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Sports Roundup: 'Smarmy' Pro Golf And A Maddening March


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. If you're like most Americans, you probably have some debt, and that's a bummer, but how do you think you'd feel if you were in debt because of a guy who beat you? Later, we are going to talk about what might be the hidden cost of domestic abuse. That's financial abuse. We'll have that eye-opening conversation in just a few minutes.

But, first, we turn to happier news from the world of sports. Well, at least for University of Louisville fans. They are now celebrating their men's college basketball championship. They beat the University of Michigan last night in the title game. Sadly, Louisville's gain is Ammad Omar's pain. Ammad is one of our editors. He is a Michigan grad and we thought we'd rub it in. I mean, get additional perspective on why this one really hurt. He's here with us in the Washington, D.C. studios.

You OK?

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Always a pleasure, Michel. Hell of an introduction.

MARTIN: Also with us for a perspective is Kevin Blackistone. He's a sports journalist and a professor at the University of Maryland. Professor Blackistone, thank you so much for joining us.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Love to be here.

MARTIN: We'll ask you to carry the ball while Ammad gets himself together. Give us your take on the game last night. People are calling it one of the greats, one for the ages.

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely. I have to agree. First of all, there was a lot of offense. Second of all, you know, one of the criticisms of Final Four basketball in recent years has been that the shooting percentages have been woeful because the depth perception is off because they play in these huge football arenas, but last night, that was absolutely not the case. We saw shooting performances like we haven't seen in years and then, oddly enough, they weren't necessarily by the expected stars, but by emerging stars in the game. Mr. Hancock with the team that won it all, Louisville, and Mr. Albrecht, who came off the bench to sub for the player of the year and had an absolutely amazing performance for Michigan. So that was fantastic.

MARTIN: Real team play.


MARTIN: A lot of - it's what college basketball is supposed to be and...


MARTIN: You were also telling us, though, that there are some of the narratives around this game that you do not like.

BLACKISTONE: Well, there are some that make me uncomfortable. One is about Kevin Ware, and everybody has given this young man a big hug because of the horrific leg injury that he suffered. But the other thing that people are not talking about is the fact that, you know, if for some reason he is somehow disabled going on in life because of this, there is no Workers' Compensation for him, despite all the money that the NCAA brings in through its television rights contract.

MARTIN: Ammad, you OK? You ready to rejoin humanity?

OMAR: Yeah. I think I'm doing a little bit better.

MARTIN: Well, from the Michigan side, there were a couple of things that I think are worth noting. One is that the Fab Five, that famous Michigan team, were all there for the game last night. But what's your sense of the game? And, also, one of the things I'm curious about is, obviously, any loss hurts, but this one you feel particularly stings because...

OMAR: Yeah. Just because we were, A, right there. It was a winnable game. It wasn't a game where we were getting completely blown out. You know, Michigan was up by 12 points in the first half and you're thinking, wow. We're about to win the national championship. It was the first time back in the finals since that Fab Five team 20 years ago, and if people don't know about the Fab Five, they're five freshmen who came into the game, completely changed the way basketball was looked at. They wore these baggy shorts. Back then, everyone used to wear those tight little shorts and that changed that, which was cool for kids growing up, and they just played with a very cool street style that everyone loved.

But, ultimately, it was a tragic story because they made it all the way to the championship game the last time Michigan made it, but then there was this black eye because it turned out that some of the players got paid off by boosters. The Michigan program was put under probation and sanctions for a long time, so it was almost like they had come back full circle and there was a moment last night when this new group of freshmen, five new freshmen, were all on the floor at the same time and you could hear on TV, just the Michigan fans in the building sensed this buzz that - wow. This is some sort of moment that's all come back together and then, just like that Fab Five team, they lost and here we are, so...

MARTIN: You know, your feelings about this actually exemplify something we had talked about on the program earlier.

OMAR: Yes.

MARTIN: And the research suggests that the sting of loss is actually sharper than the thrill of victory.

OMAR: Yeah. I think that's generally the case in a regular game when, you know, you win, you expect to win, you move on. OK. Cool. We're on to the next one. I think it's even more of a sting when you're in the championship game because the whole thing is about winning it all and you're this close to glory that - you know, Michigan hasn't won a championship in basketball since 1989. They haven't won one in football since 1997. So you feel as if this is like a once in a decade, once every couple decades chance where we might finally win and then it's kind of pulled out from underneath you.

MARTIN: Kevin, let's look ahead to the women's final.


MARTIN: A great story there in the offing, there. Tell us about it.

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely. You know, I think the women's tournament actually has been more entertaining than the men's tournament. I think the narratives there have been the kind of narratives that draw you in even more. You know, one of the unusual things is the best player in the game - maybe the best player ever, Brittney Griner, for Baylor University - isn't going to be playing in the game. That almost never happens in the women's game.

And Skylar Diggins with Notre Dame - maybe the second best player in the game - she won't be there. But who will be there is another Louisville team led by the Schimmel sisters, who are part of a documentary done a few years ago about a family that gets off the Native American reservation, relocates in Portland, Oregon, I believe. Mother is a basketball coach. Turn out to be fabulous players, and now Shoni Schimmel, the lead of the two sisters, has absolutely willed her team into this championship game.

MARTIN: Are they the favorites, over...

BLACKISTONE: They are not the favorites. No one is ever favored over U Conn.

OMAR: But they weren't favorites against Baylor or Tennessee, either, and they...


OMAR: ...came back and beat those two powerhouse teams, so...

BLACKISTONE: So this is a real underdog story, but a real heartwarming story, as well.

MARTIN: Also, looking ahead in the sports world, the Masters is coming up. It's the first major golf tournament of the year and, Kevin, do you want to talk about that a little bit?

BLACKISTONE: Well, you know, the story about the Masters is the same as it's ever been, ever since a guy by the name of Tiger Woods started playing it and it's about - will he win? It's Tiger versus the field and, as we all know now, Michel - right - supposedly everything's OK, because Tiger has a new advertisement out that basically says, winning cures all, so forget about...

MARTIN: His personal behavior?


MARTIN: And speaking of winning cures all, this tournament is also famous and it's also notorious because...

OMAR: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...this is one of the - the one major tournament played at a golf course that does not allow women to be full members. It did not. Was the source of some activism some years ago. They finally - Augusta National finally has admitted two women.

BLACKISTONE: Condi Rice being one of them.

MARTIN: The former secretary of state...


MARTIN: ...being one of them. Does that cure all, Kevin? I know - I'm just saying, as an African-American, I know this has been a tricky - a lot of people felt that Tiger Woods should have had more to say about this since his...


MARTIN: ...first ad for American Express...


MARTIN: ...talked about the fact that there were places that he could not have played on a generation earlier.


MARTIN: Many people felt he should have done more to change the policy.

BLACKISTONE: I mean, this is dressing in the window to me. I mean, this really hasn't changed anything. I still get a smarmy feeling when I'm around the professional golf tour, just because they still have this issue and they really haven't dealt with it. But, you know, it's not winning cures all. It's money cures all. And, a few years ago, you know, when they refused advertising over this whole issue, you saw how powerful they were.

MARTIN: Ammad, does looking ahead to the Masters do anything to relieve the sting of...

OMAR: Not to be...

MARTIN: ...the Michigan loss? Sorry.

OMAR: Yes. Not to be, you know...

MARTIN: Since you're a golfer yourself, as well.

OMAR: Not to be labeled a misogynist or anything, but you know, if you're a golf fan, it doesn't get too much bigger than the Masters. Tiger Woods, you know, like Kevin said - he's the two-to-one favorite by the bookies. The next closest guy is about 10 to one, Rory McIlroy, so he's the prohibitive favorite to win this.

And I think, as far as the women at the Masters goes, it's going to be interesting. Kevin talked about the window dressing. I think you're going to see a lot of that in the days before the Masters, today and tomorrow. I think Phil Mickelson is playing a practice round with Condoleezza Rice. You're going to see a lot of Condi Rice in the next couple days, I predict, to make them say, hey, look. It's all about her now.

MARTIN: Ammad Omar...

OMAR: Don't feel bad, Ammad.

MARTIN: Ammad Omar is TELL ME MORE's editor, a sports fanatic. He was here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Kevin Blackistone is a sports journalist and a professor of sports journalism at the University of Maryland, also here in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Gentlemen, thank you.


OMAR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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