A juiced triple crown winner and an NFL player accused of sexual assault can still play: NPR’s Scott Simon talks with ESPN’s Michele Steele about this week in sports.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And now to the mellow sounds of B.J. Lederman, who writes our theme music. It’s time for sports.
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SIMON: Another scandal hits horse racing. Will a Triple Crown winner have to get back the roses? Also, Antonio Brown of the New England Patriots is accused of sexual assault but will still take the field. And an injury puts one of baseball’s great young talents on the bench just before the playoffs. We’re joined now by ESPN’s Michele Steele. Good morning, Michele. Good to have you back.
MICHELE STEELE: Great to be back, Scott.
SIMON: And let’s – you’re in Chicago. Right?
STEELE: Yes, right, I am.
SIMON: Even better then.
SIMON: So let’s start with the scandal. Justify failed a drug test in April 2018 before going on to win that year’s Kentucky Derby, ultimately the Triple Crown. According to the rules of racing, he should have been disqualified until an investigation was complete. Why wasn’t he?
STEELE: My goodness, Scott. What a bombshell of a story. You know only 13 horses in history have won the Triple Crown. Of course, that’s winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes. Justify was one of those horses in 2018. This is a big, big deal. The New York Times had the scoop. Justify tested positive for a banned substance called scopolamine. And this was right after the Santa Anita Derby. It’s sort of a performance-enhancing drug.
Then the California Horse Racing Board did three weird things. One, they slow-walked to confirm the test. It took them more than a month to let Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, know. He’s a little bit the Bill Belichick of racing. Two, they did not reveal the test publicly, which is something that they normally would have done. And then four months later, after Justify won all of these accolades, won the Triple Crown, they sort of quietly dropped the case altogether…
STEELE: …Because they say that Justify maybe could have eaten some contaminated feed. And that was the reason for the flunked drug test. So real mystery.
SIMON: Will something like this make fans think this sport is fixed? And you mentioned Santa Anita. Of course, the deaths of Santa Anita have been a terrible scandal in the racing industry, not to mention a loss.
STEELE: You know, this Triple Crown winner, unfortunately, is going to have an asterisk by his name. Now, the way horse racing works – they don’t give back the roses so to speak. He’s not going to lose his title. In fact, he’s already out to stud in Australia. So Justify…
SIMON: Sixty million dollars, if I’m not mistaken.
STEELE: Sixty million dollars, yes. So there’s lots of powerful interests here in horse racing. And as we know, you know, it’s a very insular sport where the people who are on the California Regulating Board are the same people who would hire guys like Bob Baffert.
So a little bit – we’re seeing them closed the wagons so to speak with – where this case, you know, is concerned. And I don’t think much is really going to happen here except for people will be scratching their heads in the future, wondering if Justify really did it on his own.
SIMON: In the half-minute we have left – Patriots, you used to cover the team. Antonio Brown is going to be a New – when have the New England Patriots say – sorry, you’re not wearing our uniform until these charges of sexual assault are investigated.
STEELE: Well, you know what, Scott? It has – partly has to do with the words I’m about to say which is that Antonio Brown is one of the best wide receivers in football. He is just a tremendous player, and talent wins out. All week he has been preparing as if he’s going to play the Miami Dolphins tomorrow, on Sunday.
And on the team’s part, they have said that they do not condone any sexual violence. He’s been accused in a civil lawsuit, but they’re going to do – as Bill Belichick said – what’s, quote, “best for the team.” It appears that he’s going to play, and then the league is going to investigate this. We’ll see what happens.
SIMON: ESPN’s Michelle Steele. Thanks so much.
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