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Saturday Sports: A turning point for women's sports

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Rain at the Masters, a turning point for women's basketball and a big merger in so-called sports. ESPN's Michele Steele joins us. Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: You bet, Scott.

SIMON: Masters tournament began on Thursday; rain interrupted them yesterday. They're playing through what looks like biblical rain today. But I want to ask you about Sam Bennett, an amateur doing really well.

STEELE: Boy, what a story he is. Yes. Sam Bennett, fifth-year senior out of Texas A&M, Scott, reached second place after his second round on Friday. 1958 was the last time an amateur held second solo after two rounds. And listen to this backstory. His dad died of early onset Alzheimer's in 2021. He has a tattoo of his late father's final written message to him, and it says, don't wait to do something.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

STEELE: And he looks at it on his left wrist before every shot, and he says he draws inspiration from that. Clearly, he's drawing a lot of inspiration from it this weekend. He's an easy guy to root for today. What a story he is. But I have to talk - speaking of big stories, I got to talk about the weather because...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...Mother Nature might actually be the most dominant player today, Scott - temperatures in the 40s; rain most of the day. Yesterday, three pine trees fell near the 17th hole. Now, luckily, nobody was hurt, but play was suspended. And we've got 39 players completing their second round today, including Tiger Woods who's right on the cutline. Luckily, Augusta has an interesting system with all these underground pipes and blowers to keep the greens and the fairway landing areas dry, so that'll get heavy use today. So two big stories I'm watching - Sam Bennett and this weather.

SIMON: I got to say, the Masters is on in one of the monitors we have on here in the studio, and they look like they're lobster fishing...

STEELE: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...The players are dressed so interestingly.

STEELE: They'll need those green jackets for warmth.

SIMON: Sports story of the week, maybe the year - LSU beat Iowa, Women's Championship, 102 to 85. Think this game has an impact beyond just winning a championship?

STEELE: It sure feels like it, you know? If you watch the championship game between LSU and Iowa last Sunday, congratulations 'cause we were all part of history. It was the most watched women's final of all time. And Scott, I got to say, I've been doing this for a long time. It was just such a uniquely captivating tournament. And what's interesting for me as a media member is that it's really been a story all week. We had multiple days of debate over the so-called decorum of LSU guard Angel Reese. She was taunting Iowa star Caitlin Clark - gave her a little bit of her own medicine at the end of the championship game after LSU won. And Clark went on television and said the criticism of Reese was overblown. Guess what? Women can talk trash, too. And it feels like this inflection point, Scott, where these talented women and their personalities are really fueling something like we haven't seen before for the women's side of the tournament. And a lot of these starters are going to be next - back next year. So it feels like women's hoops is just in a great position to grow from here.

SIMON: UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, announced a merger this week. I guess there's just a lot of money to be made in watching people beat each other into the ground.

STEELE: Yeah. Yeah. I hear they're your favorite sports, Scott.

SIMON: Oh, yeah.

STEELE: You're big on the body slams.

SIMON: Sports...

STEELE: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Put that in air quotes.

STEELE: (Laughter) Well, you know, combat sports is a big deal, like it or love it. Ari...

SIMON: Loathe it, some of us, but go ahead. Yeah.

STEELE: Well, Ari Emanuel loves it. He's the head of Endeavor. That's the company that owns UFC. They are paying big bucks for World Wrestling Entertainment - known, of course, as WWE. He's going to merge that with UFC. Guess how big this entity is - $21.4 billion. They're going to trade under the very apt ticket symbol TKO. It'll be interesting to see if we have any crossover between these two. But Scott, this is a media rights play, right?

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: Live sports are king. The idea is that maybe they roll up the rights, we get a big number for both, and we'll see - it could be a very formidable tag team business-wise.

SIMON: Michele Steele of ESPN - (imitating growl). Thanks so much, Michelle. Talk to you soon.

STEELE: (Laughter) See you soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
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