SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And it's time for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: And what a year - the Patriots' last-second comeback, the Warriors and the Cavs again. The Astros win for their first time. And brilliant play from just about the best sister act ever. And, of course, huge, dominating stories off the field. Joined now by Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And let's start appreciating the year with tennis and the utterly amazing Williams sisters.
BRYANT: Exactly. And we'll start the year with the utterly amazing Williams sisters. If you go back a year or two, the Australian Open - and you have a final between Venus and Serena, something that nobody thought any - that we'd ever see again, considering that they're both now on the other side of 35 years old and - which is a lifetime in tennis. And, of course, there was another story that was going on that Serena was playing while pregnant, and she just had her baby. And so now the new storyline - first Serena and Venus - is you've got Aunt Venus. And now Serena is going to be...
BRYANT: Serena is going to try to do something that's very difficult to do - to win a Grand Slam as a mother. And who would bet against Serena on that? It was really remarkable when you look at what those two sisters had done - and especially even Venus more so because even two years ago, Scott, her camp had been beginning to think about what her retirement song was going to look like. Now you look at her. She's a top 10 player. She went to two Grand Slam finals. And she's as good as anybody in the world, except for maybe her sister. And so, it goes with the two greatest siblings professional sports has ever produced.
SIMON: We recognize some highlights are going to have to be left out in this quick review. But how did the Houston Astros, within a month of a storm that devastated much of their city, manage to win their first World Series title?
BRYANT: Just by being tough and by being fun and by having really, really good players. And it was a great World Series, especially. The Los Angeles Dodgers hadn't been to the World Series since 1988. The Houston Astros had been once, and they lost in 2005 to the Chicago White Sox. And this series looked like it was going to be over after Game 2. And then, suddenly, the Astros came back, and then they came back again. And then you had that wild game, the 13-12 game, out in Houston.
And so it was a wonderful - you know Scott, the thing that happens with sports quite often is for all the things that take place, for all the money and the contract disputes and the protests and the counter-protests and everything taking place, at some point, we watch the game because there's something remarkable taking place with these athletes. They do things to bring us in, and they keep us there.
SIMON: Cavs, Warriors, Cavs, Warriors - enough said. In football, Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to a record-breaking come-from-behind in the Super Bowl. But I'd say the season's still been defined by activism and protests inspired by Colin Kaepernick.
BRYANT: No question. And off the field has defined football and, really, sports. I think that we've reached that point where we thought we could get away from it, where sports was the place where we went away from our problems. And I think that sports has actually magnified the divisions that we have in this country. And I don't think there's any way around it. You can blame Colin Kaepernick if you want. You can blame the protesters.
But you also have to look at the multibillion dollar sports industry that has taken police and military and now embedded them into the game. You can't watch a game now without the flags and the flyovers and all of the militarism. And so that collision has taken place on the field now, and it's a very divisive place. I think sports has done a very poor job with it, actually, because there is an opportunity to discuss where we are right now, but we seem to fall along the same sort of divisive lines.
SIMON: Yeah. And, of course, we have talked about and will in later segments certainly get to the horrifying scandal on the USA gymnastics program. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us.
BRYANT: And on that note, Happy New Year. We'll see you next year, Scott.
SIMON: OK. Take care, my friend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.