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Saturday sports: Russia and Belarus banned from Paralympics; Coach K's last game

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now, even in times like these, it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Russia and Belarus banned from another world sports event. Will there be a baseball season, and when? And Coach K's final home game.

We're joined now by NPR's Tom Goldman. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And some breaking news today - Brittney Griner, the great American women's basketball Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star - reports coming out of Russia say that she's being held on an alleged drug charge. What can you tell us?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, Brittney Griner is one of the WNBA players who plays in Russia during the WNBA offseason to make more money. And reports say a drug-sniffing dog detected vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage at the airport near Moscow. Now, this reportedly happened last month, before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but certainly not a good time right now with hostilities between Russia and the West very high due to the war and with Russian athletes being banned throughout the sports world.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Griner's WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, released a statement saying, in part, we are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation. We remain in constant contact with her family, the WNBA and NBA. At this time, our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health and her safe return home.

SIMON: The International Paralympic Committee has changed its original position. It's will now prohibit athletes from Russia and Belarus from participating in the Winter Games, which are happening right now in Beijing. Why did they change course?

GOLDMAN: Pressure from National Paralympic Committees and mainly from athletes. Their original decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes was hugely criticized. It got to the point where there were threats of boycott at the Paralympics and rising tensions in the athletes village. So the International Paralympic Committee, the IPC, reversed course. The committee didn't want violence and didn't want the controversy to overwhelm the Games and, you know, turn the focus away from the great athletes and their great stories.

And, Scott, how about this for a great story?

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Ukraine is on top of the medal standings after Day 1 of competition...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...With three gold and a total of seven medals. The Ukrainian team leader called it a miracle that they even got to China. One of the gold medalists in the men's vision-impaired biathlon race dedicated his medal to, quote, "the guys protecting our cities."

SIMON: Very heartwarming. Athletes are also speaking out in baseball's labor negotiations.

GOLDMAN: They are. You know, it's interesting. Last time regular season games were canceled due to a work stoppage, the damaging players' strike in 1994, '95, there wasn't social media. There is now, and players are using it fully to try to connect with fans and explain and apologize for the current mess, which actually was initiated by team owners locking out players last December. And then this week, the ongoing labor impasse led MLB commissioner to cancel the start of the season.

Players are standing resolute about changing a financial system they say keeps them undervalued and underpaid as baseball revenues grow. They're waging a good PR battle right now, Scott, but owners really have the upper hand financially if this thing drags on.

SIMON: Yeah. Mike Krzyzewski, coach at Duke since 1985 national championships, 12 Final Four appearances, three consecutive gold medals for the U.S. Olympics - his last home game tonight. A great coach, and he never struck a player or threw a chair across the court. What can you say?

GOLDMAN: What a boring guy, huh?

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Just won more games than any DI coach ever, treated his players with respect. A lot will be said tonight, for sure, as he coaches his last home game at Duke's hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium. There'll be pre- and post-game ceremonies. Nearly a hundred former Duke players accepted invitations to be there. Whopping ticket prices. It's going to be quite the show, Scott.

SIMON: We have to acknowledge the loss of a couple of extraordinary athletes this week, too.

GOLDMAN: We do. Shane Warne, the great Australian cricket bowler - that's like the pitcher in baseball - he was rock-star famous. He died of a suspected heart attack at the relatively young age of 52. And then a tragic death in women's collegiate soccer. Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer, a vibrant and popular young woman, died by suicide. And she was only 22.

SIMON: Heartbreaking losses for all of us, not just the sports world. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: Good to talk to you.

SIMON: And if you or someone you know is considering suicide, please, do contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That number is 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741741.

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

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.