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Saturday Sports: Spanish soccer controversy; Shohei Othani injured; basketball World Cup

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And breaking news in the Spanish soccer controversy. Shohei Ohtani injured. And the World Cup of basketball tips off. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Michele, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: You bet, Scott.

SIMON: And the breaking news is that FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, has suspended Luis Rubiales, president of Spain's soccer federation. He said he wasn't going to resign. He, of course, kissed a prominent player on the women's team on the lips. It's on tape. He doesn't deny it. A lot of the Spanish players say that they're not going to play for the team until he steps down. What's your reading of his 90-day suspension today?

STEELE: Yeah. You know what? This is the first ever World Cup win for the Spanish women's team, and they should be celebrating right now. But the story since then has been about this debacle. FIFA now suspending Rubiales for 90 days pending disciplinary proceedings. It's also ordering him and the Spanish federation to refrain from contacting or even trying to contact the player in question. Now, he's avowed he would not resign. But you know what? Many in Spain and, most critically, the women's national team have said they don't want him to continue in his position, not just because of what he did but his behavior since. Now, as you mentioned, he said the kiss was, quote, "consensual." Jenni Hermoso, the player in question, has denied that. And the federation, Scott, has threatened legal action against her for saying it wasn't consensual. This is very much a developing story, so stay tuned for more to come.

SIMON: And I have to ask you about the terrible news in baseball. The best player in the game, Shohei Ohtani, pitcher and designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels, suffered a torn ligament, right elbow. He won't pitch for the rest of the season. He will or plans to continue batting. Of course, his contract with the Angels expires. He was expected to become the highest-paid baseball player of all time and still might be. But a two-parter - look. He's going to be plenty rich. Does this injury drive down the price he can command? And secondly, is it going to increase the pressure on him to choose one - pitching or hitting?

STEELE: Absolutely. Great questions there. You know, as you know - you're a baseball guy, Scott - elbows in baseball, sordid history. And the harder you throw the ball, the more likely you are to get injured. And Ohtani throws it just about as hard as anybody else does in Major League Baseball. He might get a little bit less, but teams are still going to be vying for the biggest star in baseball by a country mile. So a lot of insiders say that his acumen just as a hitter could still garner a ton of money. And if you get pitching thrown in, it's still really likely he does get the biggest baseball contract of all time. And I think, personally, it is likely that you get pitching thrown in. Now, we'll have to see what his body tells him. But part of Ohtani's identity, Scott, is he's a two-way player. If he wanted to just focus on one, he would have done that by now. He wants to pitch. So it's super intriguing 'cause this is just a situation we have not seen before.

SIMON: Which teams are you watching for in the men's basketball World Cup?

STEELE: Well, the U.S., of course, ranked the No. 2 team after Spain. Now, this roster is not considered the A team - not a ton of names you're going to recognize but a bunch of breakout stars to come, I think. France, Germany, Canada - those are the other teams to watch. And the top two finishers get into the Olympics automatically. So not just bragging rights on the line here.

SIMON: France, huh? (Speaking French).

STEELE: Oui.

SIMON: All right. Michele Steele of ESPN.

STEELE: (Laughter).

SIMON: Merci beaucoup, whatever that means.

STEELE: De rien, Scott.

SIMON: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "KONG") 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.