Week In Sports: Colleges Prepare For Fall; Remembering Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan

May 23, 2020
Originally published on May 23, 2020 8:17 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

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SIMON: Some colleges tell student athletes they can return to campus to train despite health and safety concerns. An NBA coaching legend dies. Got NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And, of course, most major pro sports, with the exception of corn hole - our favorite - shut down by the coronavirus. They're still in the talking, planning stage for comebacks. But college sports took actual steps this week, didn't they?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they did - small steps. The NCAA Division I Council voted to let college football and men's and women's basketball players to return to campuses voluntarily to train starting June 1. And this would happen in states that are opening back up. Yesterday, the powerful Southeastern Conference, the SEC, voted to allow all athletes back starting June 8. Now, officials are being responsible in their statements at least, stressing that state and local safety regulations have to be followed. In its announcement, the SEC said activities are permitted based on the ability to participate in controlled and safe environments and maintain recommended social distancing measures.

SIMON: Some students have got to be concerned at the same time. I mean, on the one hand, you know, they want to make the team. They want to do their best. On the other hand...

GOLDMAN: Yeah, on the other hand, there's some anxiety. I've talked to some about this. You know, health and safety haven't gotten the publicity that paying college athletes has. But advocates for college athletes say there's a long history of athlete mistreatment, even abuse by some coaches. And college athletes, Scott, who can feel powerless against a coach - they may be nervous now that health and safety are a priority. Will they be protected during the pandemic? If some are fearful of coming back at this point, do they risk losing a scholarship, for instance?

And there is some concern about all this playing out against a backdrop of enormous pressure to get football going, especially. Without the football season, the financial loss is estimated at $4 billion, meaning if that happened, athletic departments would suffer deep cuts potentially, massive job losses. Schools would be affected.

SIMON: And we must note, alas, this week, Patrick Ewing, former New York Knicks great, now coach at Georgetown University, announced yesterday he has COVID-19. He's in the hospital. What more do we know?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, we don't know a lot beyond that - that he is in the hospital being treated for it. He said in a statement that, quote, "This virus is serious and should not be taken lightly. I want to encourage everyone to stay safe and take care of themselves and your loved ones." And it's a reminder to everyone clamoring to reopen sports and everything else.

SIMON: Yeah. And a real loss - the longtime Utah Jazz coach and one of the original Chicago Bulls, Jerry Sloan, died. He was a - what a great guy.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, 11 years as a Bull, a hard-nosed Bull. I can't find any any mention of him without that descriptor. Hard-nosed, a great defender. Twenty-three years coaching the Jazz, including those great John Stockton, Karl Malone teams that, of course, your Chicago Bulls vanquished a couple of times in the late '90s.

SIMON: Oh, that's right. Thanks for reminding me.

GOLDMAN: Oh, that's right. Yeah. Yeah. You know, Sloan never won an NBA title, never named coach of the year. And how did that happen?

SIMON: Boy.

GOLDMAN: But he is in the Hall of Fame for a reason. He's a - he was a consistent winner. Those who knew him talked about his consistency as a person and as a coach and a player. He was tough but fair. You know, a lot of his traits he developed growing up on an Illinois farm. He was the youngest of 10 kids. In fact, the Utah coach he succeeded, Frank Layden, once said of Sloan - he's a farmer. He gets up in the morning and says, let's get the job done. Sloan was uncomfortable, as most farmers would be, with the showbiz aspect of pro sports, but he succeeded nevertheless. And in the many tributes since his death yesterday, you can tell he was widely respected for being a genuine person.

SIMON: He sure was a great guy. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAT METHENY'S "SPIRIT OF THE AIR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.