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Patriots owner makes strong defense of team
CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft demanded an apology from the league once the Patriots are found to be not guilty of breaking any rules regarding using under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game. A conclusion Kraft is certain will occur. In an unscheduled statement, Kraft strongly defended his team's actions and integrity Monday night. "I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots did nothing wrong in this process that was in violation of NFL rules," Kraft said at the team's first media availability in Arizona. "If the (Ted) Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope the league would apologize to our entire team, and in particular to coach (Bill) Belichick and Tom Brady, for what they've had to endure this week," Kraft added, at times sounding angry. "I'm disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon. We expect hard facts rather than circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation." The NFL has said evidence shows the Patriots used underinflated footballs during the first half of the AFC title game victory over Indianapolis. The league is still determining why the balls were underinflated. NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss are leading the probe. Wells was the investigator in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal and has said the current investigation could last a while. Belichick and Brady followed Kraft to the podium, but basically left any comments on the investigation to their boss. When asked if he was upset by the accusations and jokes of which he was the subject, Brady said: "I've moved past those initial feelings and I want to move forward." But moving away from the deflated footballs theme will be particularly difficult on Tuesday, which is media day, when just about any question has been fair game in the past. So Kraft came out swinging before then with a speech tinged with emotion - and fire. "Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys," said Kraft, who has three Super Bowl titles and three other trips to the big game since 2001. "They are part of my family. Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the years. I've never known them to lie to me. That's why I'm confident in saying what I just said. "It bothers me greatly their reputations and integrity - and by association that of our team - has been called into question this week." This hardly is the first time the Patriots have been under such scrutiny. Most famously was 2007, their undefeated regular season. Revelations that New England videotaped New York Jets coaches' signals during a game cost Belichick a $500,000 fine, and the team was fined $250,000 and stripped of its 2008 first-round draft choice by the NFL. During this year's playoffs, Ravens coach John Harbaugh accused the Patriots of being deceitful with some alignments on offense. The NFL exonerated Kraft's team of any wrongdoing. Now, Kraft has taken the offensive. "I, and our entire organization," he said, "believe strongly in the integrity of the game and the rules of fair play are properly, equitably and fairly enforced." --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL Tue, 27 Jan 2015 03:11:00 +0000
Kobe Bryant to have shoulder surgery, likely out for season
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Kobe Bryant will have surgery Wednesday on his torn right rotator cuff, likely ending his 19th season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant seriously aggravated a lingering shoulder ache while dunking last week in New Orleans. The star guard and the Lakers decided Monday on surgery, which typically requires several months of rehabilitation. The Lakers will announce a timetable for Bryant's recovery after surgery, but coach Byron Scott anticipates losing the third-leading scorer in NBA history for the rest of the year. "Kobe is probably not going to play" again this season, Scott said. "We all know how tough he is," Scott added after Monday's practice. "He's a trooper, so we pray for him that his return will be sooner rather than later." The 36-year-old Bryant's torn rotator cuff is likely his third straight season-ending injury. He missed the 2013 playoffs with a torn Achilles tendon, and he played just six games last season before breaking a bone near his left knee. His famously resilient body has finally worn down from the accumulated grind of nearly two decades and several lengthy postseasons with the Lakers, including five NBA title runs. After returning at nearly full strength in training camp, Bryant sat out eight games to rest in the last month and played on a strict minutes limit. He still dealt with assorted aches and setbacks before he injured his shoulder. Bryant met with Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic on Monday, determining his injury's extent and deciding on surgery. He is averaging 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 35 games this season, but shooting a career-worst 37.3 percent in a wildly inconsistent season. The Lakers reacted to the news with disappointment and respect for Bryant, who was selected to the All-Star game for the 17th time last week. "Kobe is a warrior," Lakers forward Carlos Boozer said. "He's strong, and he's going to attack rehab like he always has." The Lakers also discouraged speculation that Bryant's career might be over. He is the NBA's highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season, and he is under contract for $25 million next year. "I think he's done everything that you can possibly do in this league, and I think at times, we don't appreciate all the stuff that he's been able to accomplish," Scott said. "I don't think we appreciate how tough he is, all the injuries and other things that he's played with, to be able to come back the way that he's come back. I don't see Kobe as the type of guy that wants to leave his legacy on (these) terms. I think he wants to go out on his own terms. We'll just have to wait and see." The Lakers (12-33) are in the midst of another aimless season, losing eight straight heading into Tuesday's visit from Washington. The 16-time NBA champion franchise is almost certain to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1976. The Lakers also owe a first-round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns to complete their disastrous trade for Steve Nash, who played just 65 games in the last three years and never suited up this season. But Los Angeles will keep the pick this summer if it lands in the top five, providing ample incentive for fans to hope the Lakers' collapse is total. Bryant wasn't at the Lakers' training complex Monday, and he didn't attend their loss to Houston on Sunday night. Scott plans to speak with Bryant throughout the week to see what he's thinking about his future, but he hopes Bryant isn't ready to quit. "With the Achilles last year, everybody said he was done," Scott said. "He came back and I think the first month of the season, he proved to everybody that he still has a lot left in the tank. I think he still has that hunger and that competitive nature to come out and prove it again. After the surgery, I'll talk to him and see how it is. We'll talk and we'll go from there." Tue, 27 Jan 2015 03:14:00 +0000
AP source: Yanks thinking of not making $6M payment to A-Rod
NEW YORK (AP) The New York Yankees are thinking about not making a $6 million payment to Alex Rodriguez if he hits six home runs and ties Willie Mays at 660 for fourth place on the career list. Rodriguez signed a $275 million, 10-year contract with the team in December 2007 and a separate marketing agreement that called for $6 million payments for up to five milestone accomplishments designated by the Yankees. Each payment is due within 15 days of designation and is in exchange for rights such as using Rodriguez's name and image in selling licensed goods. At the time of the marketing agreement, those accomplishments were contemplated to be tying the home run totals of Mays, Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762), and breaking Bonds' major league record. Rodriguez returns to the team next month after a season-long drug suspension and has three seasons and $61 million in guaranteed money remaining in his contract. New York's thought process on the $6 million payment, first reported by the Daily News, was described to The Associated Press on Monday by a person familiar with the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because no public statements were authorized. The Yankees are thinking of letting any accomplishment pass without declaring it a milestone. A failure to declare a milestone and make a payment likely would trigger a grievance on Rodriguez's behalf by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Barring a settlement, the case would be heard by an arbitrator. Rodriguez's spokesman, Ron Berkowitz, declined comment. A-Rod met last week with Rob Manfred, who headed the investigation of the Biogenesis of the America clinic that led to the player's suspension for violation of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract. "Occasionally when players have an issue, they have asked me for advice, come to see me, wanted to talk to me about something," Manfred said Monday. "I don't put a particular significance on this meeting. It was one of those things. A player wanted to come in. We had a brief meeting." Rodriguez, a three-time AL MVP, turns 40 in July, and the Yankees have said they plan to shift him from third base to designated hitter. Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:36:00 +0000
Hope Solo could be left off US World Cup roster
Goalkeeper Hope Solo faces the possibility of being left off the American roster for this year's Women's World Cup if she fails to complete tasks set for her by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which may include alcohol counseling. The 33-year-old was suspended for 30 days last Wednesday for what the U.S. Soccer Federation called "an incident that occurred during the current WNT training camp" in Carson, California. Asked whether she could be omitted from the team's World Cup roster, USSF President Sunil Gulati said Monday: "Look, that's possible. We hope that's not the case. We hope she's making progress and joins the team. That's certainly the goal, hers and ours." Jerramy Stevens, Solo's husband, was driving a team vehicle when he was arrested last week on suspicion of driving under the influence, a person familiar with the details of the arrest told The Associated Press last week. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they could not discuss the case publicly. Solo was ordered to refrain from drinking alcohol last June after she was arrested on domestic violence charges at her sister's home in Kirkland, Washington. The charge was dropped this month. Speaking on a conference call with U.S. coach Jill Ellis, Gulati said he had to speak carefully because of the involvement of "health-related issues." Asked whether Solo had been asked to undergo alcohol counseling, Gulati said "I think neither of us denied or confirmed that." "She's been given time to deal with some issues, and we think that in this period she'll certainly start that process, and we'll evaluate," he said. Gulati said the length of the suspension was determined during conversations he had with Ellis and USSF Secretary General Dan Flynn. "Thirty days seemed to be the appropriate suspension under our rules and given the circumstances," he said. "So there are a number of things that Hope is being asked to do in that 30 days. We're not going to get into the specifics of that. And then we'll evaluate where things stand at the end of that period and make the decision going forward." Solo will miss exhibition games at France (Feb. 8) and at England (Feb. 13). She could return for the Algarve Cup tournament in Portugal in March. "The situation warranted a consequence, and we thought it was reasonable," Ellis said. "This is important for us to be able to focus the players that we have on these games and then allow Hope some time to sort of reflect on some things. So I think as far as the specifics, like Sunil said, we're not going to get into those, but Hope and I had some very good conversations and I'm optimistic about moving forward." Ellis said forward Alex Morgan was "fully integrated back into this training camp" reinjuring her left ankle Oct. 17 during a game against Guatemala at the CONCACAF Women's Championship. Morgan, who has 49 goals in 77 international appearances, was sidelined for seven months after injuring the same ankle during training in October 2013. "She's coming along great. We're very excited about where she is," Ellis said. Tue, 27 Jan 2015 05:09:00 +0000
Visitation, memorial service set for Hall of Famer Banks
CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Cubs say a public visitation and memorial service for Hall of Fame slugger Ernie Banks will be held Friday and Saturday in the city. The visitation is scheduled for noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, with the memorial service at 10 a.m. Saturday at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church. Limited public seating will be available. Banks died Friday at 83 after a heart attack, according to an attorney representing his family. Known as "Mr. Cub," Banks is remembered as much for his boundless enthusiasm despite playing on mostly losing teams as his 512 home runs and two MVP awards. Tue, 27 Jan 2015 00:46:00 +0000
Coach K gets 1,000th win as No. 5 Duke tops St. John's 77-68
NEW YORK (AP) Mike Krzyzewski earned his 1,000th career win Sunday, making him the first NCAA Division I men's coach to reach the milestone, when No. 5 Duke surged past St. John's in the second half for a 77-68 victory at Madison Square Garden. Tyus Jones scored 22 points and the Blue Devils (17-2) went on an 18-2 run down the stretch to put Krzyzewski in four figures on his first try. Jahlil Okafor had 17 points and 10 rebounds, combining with Jones and Quinn Cook (17 points) to fuel the decisive spurt after Duke trailed by 10 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining. When the final horn sounded, Blue Devils players engulfed Krzyzewski in front of their bench, and he received a bear hug from assistant Jeff Capel. Players were given T-shirts that read "1,000 and Kounting." Sun, 25 Jan 2015 21:44:00 +0000
AP Source: Browns WR Josh Gordon fails another drug test
CLEVELAND (AP) Josh Gordon's troubles have deepened. He may be out of chances - and time. The wide receiver for the Browns has failed yet another drug test, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Sunday. Gordon, who has twice been suspended by the NFL for drug violations, could be banned for one year, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidentiality of the testing. ESPN, citing anonymous sources, first reported Gordon's failed test. Cleveland's patience with Gordon has been pushed to its limits. "Clearly we are very disappointed to hear the latest report regarding Josh," a Browns spokesman said Sunday in a release. "At this point, due to the confidential nature of the NFL's substance-abuse policy, we have not been made aware by the league of a failed test. We are in the process of gathering more information and will provide further comment at the appropriate time." Agent Drew Rosenhaus said he could not comment on his client's situation. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined comment. "I keep in touch with Josh a lot," Browns cornerback Joe Haden said Sunday night at the Pro Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. "He's actually renting my spot right now back in Cleveland. But I don't know about that. I'll find out about that in a little bit. "I don't really know what the situation is, but I'm going to figure it out." Gordon's latest misstep could lead to the team releasing the talented 23-year-old. A Pro Bowl selection in 2013, he was suspended 10 games last season because he tested positive for marijuana. He returned for five games but failed to deliver the spark the Browns had hoped. He was then suspended by the Browns for violating team rules before the Dec. 28 season finale at Baltimore. Gordon had missed the team's walk-through the previous day, and following the season coach Mike Pettine revealed that Gordon had been guilty of multiple violations during the season. Gordon missed the first two games in 2013 but still led the league with 1,646 yards receiving and emerged as the one of the league's top playmakers. Last year, he received a one-year suspension that was reduced to 10 games after the league and Player's Association revised its drug policies. A second-round pick in the 2012 supplemental draft, Gordon signed a four-year contract worth $5.3 million as a rookie. He figured to cash in with a bigger contract following his monster '13 season, but Gordon's legal issues - he was arrested for drunken driving during his suspension last season - have clouded a bright future. Gordon failed several drug tests while in college, but the Browns couldn't ignore his talent and gave up a second-round pick to select him three years ago. It seemed like an ingenious move when he was shredding defensive backfields, but now Gordon's days as a pro could be over. --- AP Sports Writer Rob Maaddi and AP freelance writer Mike Cranston contributed to this report. --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL Mon, 26 Jan 2015 05:42:00 +0000
Pistons G Jennings to miss rest of season with injury
TORONTO (AP) Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings will miss the rest of the season after he ruptured his left Achilles tendon. Jennings was injured in the third quarter of Saturday night's 101-86 loss at Milwaukee. He averaged 15.4 points and 6.6 assists in 41 games this season. "It's definitely a tough loss for us," Pistons forward Greg Monroe said before Sunday night's game at Toronto. "He's a huge part of the success we've had recently." Coming into the day, Detroit had won 12 of 16 to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race after a terrible start. But it will be difficult to maintain that pace without the 25-year-old Jennings. Detroit has not reached the postseason since 2009. It's the longest active drought in the East. The Pistons said there is no timetable for Jennings' return, but the guard tweeted a message earlier Sunday saying "6/9 months." "Not being able to play basketball is the worst thing," Jennings tweeted in a separate message. Coach Stan Van Gundy said he feels bad for Jennings, who loves playing "probably as much as anybody I've been around." "He plays all summer, he loves being in the gym," Van Gundy said. "On top of that, he was having the best season of his career, particularly lately, so it's really tough. It's tough for us but it's even tougher for him and I feel real bad for him because he was playing so well and then to have it end when he was on such a run is really unfortunate." D.J. Augustin will take Jennings' spot in the starting lineup, with rookie Spencer Dinwiddie coming off the bench. "We've got confidence in D.J.," Van Gundy said. "He's played very well this year." Van Gundy spoke to general manager Jeff Bower on the telephone Sunday morning and said he'll look to add a third point guard to the roster "fairly soon." "We'll meet tomorrow and look at our options and see what it is we think we should pursue," Van Gundy said. The Pistons have had an open roster spot since waiving Josh Smith last month, but still could apply to the league for a hardship exception, Van Gundy said. Just as difficult for Detroit will be replacing the swagger and confidence provided by Jennings, whom Van Gundy described as having the "natural personality" of a locker room leader. "Guys are sort of in that shock time right now," Van Gundy said. "He really thought we were going to kick everybody's butt every night and showed that on the floor. I think that gave his teammates more belief. We're going to need guys to play with that kind of confidence." Dinwiddie has only played nine games with Detroit this season, and recently spent seven games with Grand Rapids of the NBA Development League. "This is the opportunity he's been looking for all year," Van Gundy said. "Let's see what he's got." Dinwiddie, whose final season of college basketball at Colorado was cut short by a knee injury last January, said he was conflicted by way his opportunity arrived. "It's definitely a laundry list of emotions," he said. "BJ obviously was a really good vet and one of my friends. Obviously anybody is happy to play, you just don't want it ever to happen like that." Mon, 26 Jan 2015 01:18:00 +0000
World Cup of Hockey tournament set for 2016
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The World Cup of Hockey is making a long-awaited return in 2016. And the NHL intends to host it every four years. "We decided that bringing back the World Cup was vitally important," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Saturday during the league's All-Star game weekend festivities. "We're going to let this evolve. We believe after giving the event such a good start that we're going to build off it." To begin with, the 2016 tournament will feature eight teams with all games played in Toronto. The tournament will start Sept. 17 and end with a best-of-three final series, with the last possible date set for Oct. 1. The World Cup will overlap training camps, and push back the start of the regular season to the second week of October. The players' union is on board as a full partner. "We have an opportunity here to build this game, and build this culture and create something that everybody on both sides can be immensely proud of," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said. "We view this is a first step, although a very important one." The league also announced the Bruins and Canadiens will play in the Winter Classic next year on Jan. 1 at Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL's New England Patriots. The return of the World Cup was the highlight announcement. It will feature a new wrinkle, with two of the teams made up of multinational players. One team will consist of North American-born players 23 and younger. Another will consist of European-born players whose countries aren't represented. The other six teams will be Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic and Finland. Teams will be split in two divisions. The World Cup and its predecessor, the Canada Cup, have been held seven times since 1976 through 2004. Bettman foresees holding the World Cup every four years and adding more countries. The timing of the 2016 World Cup comes two years before the Winter Olympics will be held in South Korea. The NHL has not yet determined whether it will allow its players to compete in the Pyeongchang Games because of concerns over travel and time differences. Bettman said the World Cup announcement "has no bearing on whether we will return to the next Olympics." Players are excited about the return of the World Cup. Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane recalled watching the U.S. winning the tournament in 1996. "We have a lot of pride in playing for our country," Kane said. "Being able to be part of something special as this, especially in a hockey hotbed like Toronto, I think it'll all come together and be a great tournament." Canada has won five of the seven tournaments, with Russia winning in 1981. The one caveat players had is they don't want the World Cup to be held at the expense of competing at the Olympics, which NHL players have done since the Nagano Games in 1998. "Olympics are Olympics," Slovenian-born Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. "I don't know if that would be a good trade off." The inclusion of two mixed national teams intrigued players. Some wondered how Canadians and Americans can set aside their longstanding cross-border rivalry. "It definitely would be a little bit uncomfortable," said Calgary Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau, who is from New Jersey. "But at the same time, it would be a great experience getting to play against guys who have been playing in the NHL for a long time." There would be an even larger mix of nationalities on the European All-Star team, which has the potential to feature players from as many as nine countries. Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons - the only Latvian currently in the NHL - was stumped by the question of which nation's anthem would be played before games. "That is a good question. I didn't even think that far," Girgensons said. "Maybe flip a coin." Each team will play three pre-tournament games, including the potential of some being played in Europe. There has also been discussion of having all eight teams play their final pre-tournament games in Buffalo, New York, a two-hour drive from Toronto. Bettman provided updates on other topics: - The NHL expects billionaire businessman Bill Foley to launch a season-ticket drive next month to determine whether there is enough interest to establish a franchise in Las Vegas. - Seattle Mayor Ed Murray met with Bettman last week to discuss the possibility of establishing a team there. Bettman called it "a nice chat," but noted Seattle lacks a feasible facility for an NHL team. - The falling Canadian dollar could put a dent into the NHL's salary cap projection of $73 million for next season. Should the loonie stay at its current level of about 80-cents U.S., the cap could drop to $71.7 million. - The NHL's other outdoor games next year will feature Minnesota hosting Chicago at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota on Feb. 21, and Colorado hosting Detroit at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, in Denver on Feb. 27. Sat, 24 Jan 2015 21:26:00 +0000
4-time NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon ending career after '15
Jeff Gordon, with a nagging back injury, a young family he wanted to spend more time with and a phenom waiting in the wings at Hendrick Motorsports, knew midway through last season that he had one more year in him. NASCAR's most charismatic driver, the man behind the wheel of the famed and sometimes feared No. 24, had decided it was time to call it quits on one of the most successful careers in motorsports history. The four-time champion conferred with Rick Hendrick, the only team owner he has had over 23 years of Sprint Cup racing, and settled on a date. The 43-year-old Gordon announced Thursday that 2015 will be his final season as a full-time driver, saddening legions of fans, fellow drivers and others who watched him became the face of stock car racing as the sport exploded in popularity a generation ago. In an interview with The Associated Press, Gordon said he reached his decision last summer. He had seen other drivers embark on distracting farewell tours, and he didn't want to be that guy. Although he told his crew chief of his decision after narrowly missing out on shot at a fifth championship, it took time to settle on the day to tell the world. It started with a conversation with his two young children when they woke up for school. They worried they won't go to the race track anymore, that other kids might think of them differently if their father is not a famous race car driver. The conversation with Ella and Leo made the decision a reality for Gordon - and he wept. "Ella just stared at me, she'd never seen me cry like that before," Gordon told AP. "After that, I seriously broke down. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I got so emotional and thought, `How am I going to get through this day?"' Gordon said he sobbed during the entire 30-minute drive to Hendrick Motorsports, where he tearfully informed his team and his longtime employees of his decision. Gordon choked back tears yet again during his interview with AP when his mother sent him a text message that he read aloud: "I never knew watching SportsCenter could be so emotional." "I'm emotional because I am so proud," Gordon said. "It's all I ever wanted, to be a race car driver. And here I've lived this incredible dream and yet that chapter of my life has been fulfilled and it's now time to go to the next step and the next chapter." He made a point to say he didn't use the word "retirement" because he could still drive again after this season. Gordon's 92 wins trail only Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). His fame reaches far beyond the track and resonates with non-sports fans. He won all the big races, collected four championships in just seven years and had 58 victories before his 30th birthday. He was a new breed of driver when he broke into NASCAR's top series, arriving with a sprint car pedigree and talent that made him an immediate contender. The clean-cut kid helped raised NASCAR's corporate image beyond its moonshine roots, making it a legitimate power on Madison Avenue as tens of thousands of new fans flocked to automobile racing in the late 1990s and 2000s. "Jeff changed the personality and perception of a race car driver in NASCAR," retired NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds said. "Before he came along, the perception was more about the good old Southeastern boy wearing blue jeans, big belt buckles and boots. But he created a new buzz in our sport because he looked like he stepped off the cover of a GQ magazine." Gordon became such a household name that he even hosted "Saturday Night Live" and was name-dropped in a Nelly song. He did it all while dominating at the track as the "Rainbow Warrior," teaming with crew chief Ray Evernham to collect checkered flags at a record pace. Gordon, who debuted in the final race of the 1992 season in Atlanta, won championships in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. He also has three Daytona 500 victories and a record five Brickyard 400 wins. Gordon told AP that his 1994 win in the inaugural Brickyard 400 - NASCAR's first race at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway - was easily the highlight of his career. The low point? Intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer in the closing laps of the 2012 race at Phoenix, where frustrations over a disappointing season got the best of him. Gordon also said a post-race melee with Brad Keselowski last November was in part triggered by his knowledge that perhaps a shot at another championship had slipped away. He was racing for the win when contact with Keselowski effectively ended his title chances. He wound up missing the four-driver championship field by a single point. Coming so close didn't change his decision to drive only one more year, though. With an ownership stake at Hendrick, and plans to remain involved with the organization for years to come, Gordon told AP "the timeline was just right." Gordon suffered serious issues years ago in his back, specifically his lower spine, and needed anti-inflammatory medication and workouts with a trainer to return to full strength. He drove in pain during a winless 2008 season and briefly contemplated retirement. He also wants to focus more on his family life, which has changed dramatically over his career. The one-time "Wonder Boy" was a mustachioed young bachelor when he entered NASCAR, and he embarked on a storybook romance with the series' leading model that led to the most high-profile marriage the sport had ever seen. Gordon and the former Brooke Sealey split in 2002. He found happiness and the desire to start a family when he married Ingrid Vandebosch in 2006. "I want to be with my kids," he told AP. "I'm seeing them grow up before my eyes and I'm never here." Gordon will now take one final victory lap around the circuit with drivers such as reigning Sprint Cup rookie of the year Kyle Larson, who routinely posts childhood photos of himself in Gordon gear. "Jeff Gordon is a hero to a lot of kids, and the driver I personally looked up to as a kid," Larson said. "He's a hero of mine." Although no replacement for Gordon has been announced, the next driver of the No. 24 will most certainly be reigning Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott. With a full roster of four drivers, Hendrick has been handcuffed in what he can do with the 19-year-old phenom. Gordon has won at every track on the Sprint Cup circuit except Kentucky Speedway. His four championships trail only teammate Jimmie Johnson, a six-time champ, for most among active drivers. Petty and Earnhardt each won seven. "There's simply no way to quantify Jeff's impact," Hendrick said. "He's one of the biggest sports stars of a generation, and his contributions to the success and growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed. There's been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be." --- AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston and Mark Long contributed to this report. Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:47:00 +0000
NCAA agrees to restore wins to Penn State, title to Paterno
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) The NCAA agreed Friday to restore 112 football wins it had stripped from Penn State and Joe Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal and to reinstate the venerated late coach as the winningest in major college football history. The agreement, swiftly approved by the boards of the NCAA and the university after intermittent talks heated up this week, lifts the last of the sanctions imposed in 2012 and wipes away the black marks that had tainted one of the nation's most celebrated college athletics programs. After more than two years of criticism that the NCAA had overstepped its authority, officials with college sports' governing body did not back down. Instead, they said they were focused on ending litigation that had held up distribution of the university's $60 million fine to fund child abuse-prevention programs. Before the deal, the NCAA had agreed last year to eliminate some of the sanctions, including reinstating Penn State's full complement of scholarships and letting the team participate in post-season play. Friday's agreement threw out the rest of the sanctions, including eliminating a five-year probation period and scholarship and transfer rules, and restoring the wins that had been wiped out. It also bowed to Pennsylvania officials' desire to see the $60 million fine spent in Pennsylvania, not spread to abuse-prevention programs around the nation. The pact emerged just days after a federal judge declined to rule on the constitutionality of the sanctions and weeks before a Pennsylvania court was to hold a trial on the legality of the penalties. "Hopefully, today we'll begin to make right the damage that has been done," said Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who had sued the NCAA with state Treasurer Rob McCord. "Today is a victory for due process, which was unafforded in this case. Today is a victory for the people of Pennsylvania. Today is a victory for Penn State nation. The NCAA has surrendered." The unprecedented scope of the sanctions had drawn intense criticism from Penn State alumni and fans who defended Paterno as innocent in the scandal and called the school's athletics program a national model. They accused the NCAA of rushing to judgment to assert its dominance, ultimately punishing people who had nothing to do with Sandusky. The family of Paterno, who died as the scandal was unfolding, hailed the agreement, while lawyers for Sandusky's victims worried that the NCAA's retreat sent the wrong message. In State College, home to Penn State's sprawling main campus nicknamed Happy Valley, the news was welcome. Hundreds of students celebrated Friday night with a subdued rally outside the university's administration building, followed by a march to the nearby Beaver Canyon apartment area. As many as 500 people joined the march. Someone projected a huge photo of Paterno onto the side of an apartment building. Others chanted, "We are Penn State!" In the agreement, Penn State acknowledged that the NCAA had acted in good faith in the Sandusky matter, and university President Eric Barron said he believed the agency had a legitimate concern about institutional control. NCAA officials said Friday that their motivation in the deal was to start funding abuse-prevention programs with the fine. "The victors are those of us who were advocating for the children," said Harris Pastides, an NCAA board member and president of the University of South Carolina. They did not back off their right to take such action. "The board felt they had to quickly and decisively put forward a set of sanctions. I hope we never have to do this again," said Kirk Schulz, an NCAA board member and Kansas State's president. The penalties sprung from the scandal that erupted when Sandusky, a retired assistant coach, was accused of sexually abusing boys, some of them on campus. Penn State's then-President, Rodney Erickson, agreed to the sanctions in 2012, in the weeks after Sandusky was convicted. Just days earlier, former FBI Director Louis Freeh released a scathing report commissioned by Penn State's trustees, and the school removed an iconic bronze statue of Paterno from the school's Beaver Stadium. Freeh's report accused Paterno and other top Penn State officials of burying child sex-abuse allegations against Sandusky to avoid bad publicity. The report portrayed the Hall of Fame coach as more deeply involved in the scandal than previously thought. The alleged cover-up by Paterno, then-university President Graham Spanier and two other Penn State administrators allowed Sandusky to prey on other boys for years, it said. Paterno was never charged with a crime, although Spanier and the two other former administrators continue to fight charges in court. Paterno's family called Friday's announcement "a great victory for everyone who has fought for the truth in the Sandusky tragedy." "This case should always have been about the pursuit of the truth, not the unjust vilification of the culture of a great institution and the scapegoating of coaches, players and administrators who were never given a chance to defend themselves," they said. Michael Boni, a lawyer for one of the victims who testified at Sandusky's trial, said he supported the restoration of Penn State's scholarships and bowl eligibility last fall, but does not believe Paterno's victories should be reinstated because they were "tarnished" by Sandusky. He also said he sensed a shift in Penn State's attitude after the criminal case against Sandusky wrapped up and it concluded civil settlements with victims. "There was a movement away from what I thought was a genuine mea culpa on the part of Penn State, having accepted the NCAA sanctions, and one toward, `Why did we cave so easily?' That was disappointing," Boni said. The sanctions eliminated all wins from 1998, when police investigated a mother's complaint that Sandusky had showered with her son, through 2011, Paterno's final season as head coach after six decades with the team and the year Sandusky was charged. The restored wins include 111 under Paterno and the final victory of 2011, after trustees fired Paterno in the wake of the charges against Sandusky and the team was coached by Tom Bradley. That returns Paterno's record to 409-136-3. He died of lung cancer at 85 shortly after the season ended. Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts and is now serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence. --- Levy reported from Harrisburg. Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania, Jim Carlson in State College and Ralph D. Russo in Oxon Hill, Maryland, contributed to this report. Sat, 17 Jan 2015 05:27:00 +0000
Putin reassures Blatter that Russia can host 2018 World Cup
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Friday he has received personal assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin that the country's economic problems will not affect its ability to host the 2018 World Cup. Blatter said he was "vigilant" about Russia's economic situation after the ruble lost almost half of its value last year under pressure from the sinking world oil price and international sanctions. Blatter said he had spoken with Putin during a visit to Russia on Friday and was assured "there is no intention to ask FIFA to change anything in the pattern and the program of the World Cup and we trust Russia will find a solution." The Russian government also faces a fall in revenue due to the low oil price, while the World Bank on Wednesday predicted that Russia's economy would contract by 2.9 percent this year. Blatter has previously proposed removing one of the 11 host cities for 2018 in order to make preparations simpler, against the wishes of the Russian government, but said Friday he no longer backed that idea. "There is no need to cut the number of stadia and the number of cities," he said. "It has been decided." Russia's preparations are ideal, he added, especially following Brazil's troubled and delay-ridden run-up to the 2014 World Cup. "When I compare the same time with Brazil, at the time, I wouldn't say it's like heaven and hell, because I don't believe that hell exists, but I think that's a different heaven that we are facing here," he said. Blatter's visit to Russia carried extra significance with regard to FIFA's presidential election in June. He opened the Commonwealth Cup, a youth tournament in St. Petersburg which typically serves as a way for Blatter to meet with the heads of football federations from ex-Soviet countries, who have historically been among his strongest backers. Blatter did not talk about his chances against Jordanian challenger Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, but indicated he was confident of a fifth term in office. "In the last congress in Sao Paulo, I was really asked by the FIFA congress to stand again and I do hope I will be here in 2016," he said. He sidestepped questions about the disputed football status of Crimea, now being administered by UEFA as a "special zone" following a dispute between the football associations of Ukraine and Russia, and Russia's non-payment of head coach Fabio Capello, saying that they were local problems that did not require FIFA to intervene. Fri, 16 Jan 2015 19:01:00 +0000
MLS renames MVP award after Landon Donovan
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Major League Soccer has renamed its Most Valuable Player award after Landon Donovan, its career scoring leader who retired last month after helping establish the league and boost the prominence of the U.S. national team. MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced the decision Thursday before the MLS draft, calling Donovan's decision to join the league in 2001 "one of the most important milestones in our history." Donovan wiped away tears as he watched a video tribute inside a hotel ballroom. The 32-year-old was voted MLS's MVP in 2009 and won his record sixth MLS Cup last month when the Los Angeles Galaxy defeated New England. Donovan says he's "eternally grateful" MLS players will have the opportunity to win the Landon Donovan MVP Award. Designed by Tiffany & Co., the foot-tall award displays Donovan's silhouette and the new crest MLS will use this year in its 20th season. Thu, 15 Jan 2015 19:17:00 +0000
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