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Saturday sports: NFL suspends Watson; Big Ten gets TV deal; WNBA playoffs begin

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Oh, my word. Now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Deshaun Watson gets a longer suspension, but - the Big Ten broadcast deal, but will players benefit? NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: NFL announced this week Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns, will be suspended for 11 games and fined $5 million over accusations of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women. Does not end the criticism, does it?

GOLDMAN: It does not. When the NFL announced the punishment Thursday, which was increased from an original six-game ban, the league said this concludes the disciplinary process, all tied up with a bow - right? - except one little problem. Despite the ban, despite the fine, despite the original ruling where the independent arbitrator said Watson's behavior toward his accusers was egregious and predatory and the NFL agreed, Watson said Thursday he's always been innocent and still is. Scott, one wonders how his mandated treatment will go if he refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing. So this all feels as if it's anything but concluded. And yeah, the criticism has been pretty strong.

SIMON: Should point out two Texas grand juries decided not to charge Deshaun Watson criminally, right?

GOLDMAN: That's right. And then 24 of his accusers filed civil suits. He settled with all but one, a woman named Lauren Baxley. And yesterday she wrote an essay in The Daily Beast saying why she will continue to not settle. Here's a quote from the piece. Quote, "I have rejected all settlement offers, in part because they have not included more sincere - any sincere acknowledgment of remorse and wrongdoings, nor have they included any promises of rehabilitative treatment. Watson still refuses to admit that he harassed and committed indecent assault against me." She says unless there's an authoritative intervention, he will continue his destructive behavior.

SIMON: A hard transition, but I want to talk about the Big Ten deal. They announced a seven-year, $7 billion deal for broadcast rights of its football and basketball games. And Tom, they're going to use all that money to lower tuitions and make higher education accessible for all, right?

GOLDMAN: Oh, absolutely. What a great idea, which they are absolutely not going to do. The money estimated to be at least $70 million for each Big Ten school - 14 of them now. When UCLA and University of Southern California head there, it will be 16. The money will be used in many different ways - enhancing existing sports, maybe adding back others that were cut due to the pandemic, building or renovating facilities, raises for coaches and administrators. Let's see, Scott. Are we leaving anything out?

SIMON: Raises for coaches or - more raises for coaches?

GOLDMAN: Oh, how about this?

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: The athletes whose performances make the TV contract possible.

SIMON: Oh, you sentimental guy. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Some of those athletes are already speaking up. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was asked on HBO's "Real Sports," could you foresee paying your athletes? To which he said, yes.

SIMON: (Laughter) Well, that takes care of it. WNBA playoffs are here. Great matchup - greatest since I think the Bulls-Knicks, the Chicago Sky facing the New York Liberty. New York leads the series 1-0. What are you looking for?

GOLDMAN: I'm looking for New York to play great again. Hey, New Yorkers, here's something to think about. Why don't you watch the one team in your city, the one pro-basketball team city that performs well? Ooh, I'm going to get letters for that.

SIMON: Oh. Oh.

GOLDMAN: The Liberty looked great behind Sabrina Ionescu and other players. They're looking to close out that series today.

SIMON: I hear the laptops in Brooklyn warming up to write you already. Tom Goldman, thanks very much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: 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.