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Saturday sports: Winter Olympics begin; Tom Brady retires; Flores sues NFL

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

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SIMON: Beijing's Winter Olympic Games begin in empty stadiums, but lots of fireworks. And a former Miami Dolphins coach sues the NFL for racial discrimination. We're joined now from Beijing by NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: I got to ask, from over here, it looks like you're going through nasal swabs and robot bartenders and looking out at empty seats - doesn't sound like a lot of fun.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) It's challenging. I've been lucky to cover the Olympics 14 times, including this one. In the past, you know, the lofty ideal the International Olympic Committee talks about, uniting the world, you can actually experience that in random meetings with athletes and fans from around the globe. This time, though, no fans - very few, actually. We're extremely limited in our access to athletes. And the feeling is more one of separation. There are fences everywhere. There are guards everywhere. A gate opens at our hotel to let our bus in and out, and it only goes to the press center. We can travel to venues to watch athletes, but nowhere else. I mean, we are seeing China and Chinese people out of the windows of those buses or taxis or trains, and it's frustrating not to get more of a flavor of this vast place.

SIMON: And, of course, a diplomatic boycott is going on - a number of nations, including the United States. Do you expect the world's concern about China's human rights policies to become a part of these Olympics?

GOLDMAN: You know, it's already been part. This past week - and it was expected - before the games started, it was talked about. The IOC president, Thomas Bach, was asked if he had a message for the Uyghur minority that, you know, according to the U.S. government and others, is enduring a cultural genocide. Bach repeated what he's often said. He's not going to talk politics because that would destroy the mission of the Olympic Games to, again, unite the world. So the IOC apparently feels condemning documented genocide is playing politics.

Now the sports schedule is fully underway. Traditionally, that's when non-sports issues fade at the games. It seems like that might happen again here unless something happens - an athlete protests, an athlete speaks out. But to do that would be a risk since Chinese organizers are on record saying athletes face punishment if they do speak out.

SIMON: A couple of athletes have already earned medals, I gather.

GOLDMAN: That is correct. We had our first gold medal of the Games. It went to a Norwegian cross-country skier, Therese Johaug, with a dominating win in her event. The last event of the day was a perfect ending for the host country. In short track speedskating, the mixed team relay - which really is this amazing, chaotic-looking thing, but they're all in perfect sync - mixed team relay with men and women, the gold went to China by just a fraction of a second. All the team members were in tears after the win.

We're looking ahead to tomorrow already, Scott, and the always exciting men's downhill kicks off - alpine skiing. Skiers have been clocked as fast as 85 miles an hour on this Olympic course called the Rock, which is new to all the skiers since there weren't any of the usual test events at the site before the Games because of the pandemic. So this unknown quality, except for a few practice runs this week, might mean the race is wide open. Still, the favorite is top-ranked downhiller Aleksander Aamodt Kilde from Norway.

SIMON: We have to note all too briefly Tom Brady announced his retirement this week - greatest of all time, I believe. Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores has alleged a system of racial discrimination and has filed a lawsuit. Why, in 2022, after so many vows, does only one NFL team have a head coach who's Black?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, that's a really good question, and I will let Brian Flores answer that. This is from his appearance this week on the new NPR podcast The Limits With Jay Williams. Here he is.

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BRIAN FLORES: This is about, you know, something that's much bigger than me, which is a system in the NFL that, in my opinion, is broken as far as hiring practices for Black and minority coaches and minorities in general.

GOLDMAN: And, Scott, the lawsuit claims the system is broken for a number of reasons, a major one being approximately 70% of NFL players are Black, but there are no Black people in ownership. Only two of the 32 NFL teams have owners who are non-white, and the owners aren't putting people of color in important positions like head coach. The NFL denies these allegations of discrimination and says it will fight the lawsuit.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott. 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.