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Saturday Sports: NFL injuries; MLB playoffs; Saudi Arabia's sports investments

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

** And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Tough week for NFL running backs, baseball's playoff race and sportswashing will go on, says the Saudi prince. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us now. Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: You bet, Scott.

SIMON: Week two of the NFL season, we have already seen two conspicuous injuries to running backs - Cleveland Browns' Nick Chubb and then Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants. In addition, of course, to the risk of brain damage, to be blunt about it, are running backs especially exposed to dangerous injuries that can shorten their careers and their health, their lives?

STEELE: Yeah, well, definitely their careers. You know, the NFL, a lot of people say, stands for not for long. And the average career in the NFL is around 3.3 years, and running backs' careers are 2.7 years on average. That's a big drop-off...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...For such a short amount of time, Scott, yeah. And they're really important cogs on the offense. They're carrying the ball, running the ball, getting violently tackled, blocking, you know, on every play. But their salaries have been dropping in recent years while their teammates on offense, those salaries have been going up. And the gulf is starting to bother a lot of star running backs. You know, you mentioned Saquon Barkley. He's the best player on the Giants' offense.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: This year, he's making $30 million less than Daniel Jones, his quarterback. Now, the issue here is that a lot of coaches have gotten wise to not paying these guys later in their careers. And the flip side is that the running backs say they should be more fairly compensated for all the mileage they're putting on their bodies.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: Scott, not likely to be resolved until the next collective bargaining agreement, unfortunately.

SIMON: Final week of the Major League Baseball regular season - let's spotlight two divisions, the AL West - the Astros, Mariners and Rangers locked in a three-way race. I never root against Jose Altuve of the Astros to come through.

STEELE: Well, the defending champs, right? Altuve and the rest of the everyday players on the Astros - Scott, they're not going to be getting much rest this week. The division champ is going to come down to the final week of the regular season in the AL West. The Astros, Mariners and Rangers - all within a game or fewer of first place, with just a handful of games left. Now, with the Astros falling to the Royals last night, Rangers are in first place in the division for now. For how long is the big question mark. I personally would love to see the Mariners pull it out, Scott. As we all know, Seattle's never won a World Series.

SIMON: Right.

STEELE: It would be amazing to see them go on a little bit of a run.

SIMON: Altuve - oh, sorry. AL East - no Yankees, no Red Sox this year. It is...

STEELE: Yeah.

SIMON: ...The Os and the Tampa Bay Rays. I can't help but think this is kind of nice for baseball, isn't it?

STEELE: It's refreshing, at least if you're not in New York or Boston. Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays - right? - both playoff teams, division title not a given just yet. AL East is going to come down to the final days here. It is nice for baseball, I think. The Orioles - they're in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. They had a little bit of a champagne party in the clubhouse after they clinched a spot last week. I just don't know how long they can keep the party going in Baltimore. We'll see.

SIMON: And we'll just note at the end, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says, yep, they're going to go on buying sports stars and sports leagues, aren't they?

STEELE: Yeah. And I personally don't quite understand the return on investment here for Saudi Arabia. I guess, you know, the idea is that all these investments in sports are going to distract from human rights concerns. But it actually seems like it keeps those concerns very front and center.

SIMON: That's an excellent point. Michele Steele of ESPN. Thanks so much, Michele.

STEELE: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MF DOOM'S "SMOKIN' THAT SH**!") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.