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Sports Roundup: Boxing Deaths, Olympic Swimming And The WNBA


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: Swim records fall in Korea. The WNBA season reaches its halfway mark with today's All-Star Game. And twin tragedies in the grisly business of boxing. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Not one, even, but two boxing deaths this week.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Russian Maxim Dadashev and Argentine Hugo Santillan both died from brain injuries a few days after their fights last weekend. Certainly not the first boxing deaths, but being so close together - just two days apart - that's very dramatic and has the boxing world split once again between those calling for reform and those saying, it's tragic, but it's just part of the game.

SIMON: You and I have both reported on the human damage in boxing over the years, and I daresay it's one of the reasons we don't talk about it a lot here. We - you know, we both recoil at this sometimes really being called a sport, and you and I love sports. We often talk about what boxing should do. Is there something fans can do to make it less destructive?

GOLDMAN: You know, I suppose they can take their money out of the sport. As long as there's demand, boxing will continue and not see a need to change. But if fans stop betting, if they stop buying pay-per-view, stop attending fights and let the powers that be know this is a protest, maybe that would spur the kind of reform that might help reducing the length of fights, zero tolerance of performance-enhancing drugs, which there isn't now, ringside doctors with neurological and concussion training at all fights and ensuring boxers train safely. Brain injuries may happen initially in training and not be detected by the time they fight.

But, you know, Scott, even if meaningful reform happens, death happens too. You know, it's the nature of a sport where the goal is to hit someone to the point of unconsciousness. And in the words of Hall of Fame boxing writer Nigel Collins, it's up to each of us to face that reality and decide whether or not it's worth the price.

SIMON: Yeah. Las Vegas this afternoon, the WNBA All-Star Game means the women's basketball season's halfway through. What teams have been most successful so far?

GOLDMAN: Well, it's been a very competitive season so far, led by Connecticut and Las Vegas, both with 13 and six records, but not leading by much. Eight of the 12 WNBA teams go to the playoffs. And the eighth team, Minnesota, is only three and a half games out of first place. The contenders include defending champion Seattle, which lost league most valuable player Breanna Stewart and star Sue Bird before the season to injuries. There were predictions of doom, but the Storm have stayed together. They've played well, and they're in the thick of the race right now.

SIMON: And, Tom, we're a year out from the 2020 Olympics.


SIMON: The World Swimming Championships are - I know you've just begun to pack - World Swimming Championships are taking place in South Korea right now. What might we see in these championships that can help us look forward to next year in Tokyo?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, it might be a good preview, although Americans hope not too much of a preview for super swimmer Katie Ledecky. She's had a really tough time of it in South Korea. Illness forced her to drop out of two events. But just today, Scott...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Some redemption.

SIMON: I saw.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, she won the 800-meter freestyle for the fourth straight time, a four-peat, at the World Championships. And for those who love controversy, there's been plenty of that related to China's Sun Yang. There are strong doping suspicions about him. He served a drug ban five years ago. And fellow swimmers haven't been shy about speaking or acting out.

Competitors who won medals in races he won refused to stand on the victory stand with him. And after he won the 200-meter freestyle, British swimmer Duncan Scott, who tied for third, wouldn't have his picture taken with Sun as they left the stage. Sun turned around and called Scott a loser and said he, Sun, was a winner. Now, Scott, whether this all plays out at the Olympics depends on an upcoming hearing where Sun could get a lifetime...

SIMON: That - I mean, this is, like, really dramatic. Who wouldn't watch this?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Well, he could get a lifetime ban, though, for a strange incident with drug testers who showed up to give him a drug test, but he reportedly destroyed blood samples with a hammer...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...That he'd given to those testers. So we'll see if that plays out in Tokyo.

SIMON: Well, that gets the job done. NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: What do you think we do with - they do with our interviews? NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You're welcome. 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.