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Anheuser-Busch, McDonald's voice NFL disapproval

Major sponsors including Anheuser-Busch are adding to the chorus of disapproval over the National Football League's recent scandals, but the companies are stopping short of pulling advertising.

Anheuser-Busch said Tuesday that it has spoken with the NFL about concerns related to recent incidents that are sparking outcry from fans, including an investigation into how long the NFL and its commissioner Roger Goodell knew about a video that shows Baltimore Raven Ray Rice beating his then-fiancee; as well as the Minnesota Vikings' decision to let Adrian Peterson play while he faces an abuse charge for spanking his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch.

McDonald's, Visa and Campbell Soup Co. say they have also voiced similar concerns to the league.

The statements come after Radisson hotels said Monday that it was pulling its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings. No other brands have pulled sponsorships from teams or the NFL.

But the statements from sponsors are becoming increasingly strongly worded.

Only last week, several big sponsors like GM and FedEx said they were monitoring the situation or watching it closely. Others like Anheuser-Busch and Procter & Gamble stayed silent.

This week, sponsors are making it clear they have made the NFL aware of their concerns. A-B used the harshest language, saying it was "disappointed and increasingly concerned."

The NFL responded to the sponsors' statements late Tuesday with a short statement of its own:

"We understand. We are taking action and there will be much more to come," the organization said.

As the NFL and various team executives navigate scandal, much is at stake: The money companies pay each year to be official sponsors -not including advertising and promotions- is worth about $1.07 billion for the league and all of its teams, according to sponsorship consultancy IEG. The NFL is a coveted partner for brands since an average of 17.4 million people tune in during a regular season NFL game, about 65 percent men and 35 percent women, according to Nielsen.

Experts say that brands are taking their cues by how upset consumers seem.

"It takes something pretty dramatic before those league sponsors who have invested in some cases hundreds of millions in their relationship with NFL seek to end their partnership or do something like that," said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of content strategy at IEG. "They follow the fans. They will be constantly monitoring and testing the waters to see what the fan reaction to this is."

For Anheuser-Busch, those sponsorship fees alone are worth an estimated $50 million. The beer maker said Tuesday that it is "disappointed and increasingly concerned" by the recent incident.

"We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code," the company said in a statement. "We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league."

Also on Tuesday, McDonald's issued a similar statement, saying "we have questions surrounding these evolving situations and are closely monitoring as the appropriate parties investigate these matters," The company added it has "communicated our concerns to the league, and we expect it to take strong and necessary actions to address these issues."

On Monday, Visa said domestic violence in any form is unacceptable and has no place in the NFL and society.

"As a long-standing sponsor we have spoken with the NFL about our concerns regarding recent events, and reinforced the critical importance that they address these issues with great seriousness."

Campbell Soup said it had also spoken to the NFL about the Ray Rice video investigation.

"Upon completion of the investigation, we expect the NFL to take appropriate action," Campbell Soup Co. said in a statement. "We have shared our views with the NFL."

Also on Tuesday, Procter & Gamble responded to a fake Covergirl NFL ad that went viral on social media. The ad depicted a woman with a black eye. The company posted a statement on its Covergirl Facebook page saying "domestic violence is completely unacceptable". The company went further, saying that it has "encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence."

Tue, 16 Sep 2014 23:05:00 +0000
Orioles clinch AL East with 8-2 win over Blue Jays

BALTIMORE (AP) The Baltimore Orioles won their first AL East crown since 1997, using home runs by Steve Pearce and Jimmy Paredes to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 Tuesday night before a boisterous crowd of 35,297 at Camden Yards.

With their ninth win in 10 games, the Orioles clinched their second playoff appearance in three years following a run of 14 consecutive losing seasons.

Afterward, the Orioles converged behind second base, fireworks soared in the outfield and streamers sprayed throughout the crowd.

It was Baltimore's ninth AL East title and only its second since 1983, when the Orioles last won the World Series.

The franchise has enjoyed a rebirth under the guidance of manager Buck Showalter, whose 1,254th victory thrust him past mentor Billy Martin into sole possession of 36th place on the career list.

Baltimore is 42-23 in a division that includes the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the free-spending New York Yankees and pitching-rich Tampa Bay. The Orioles led by only four games on Aug. 6 before going on a 27-11 run.

The clinching victory featured an unlikely list of contributors, not at all unusual for a team that often delved deep into its 25-man roster. Ubaldo Jimenez was making his first start in a month; Pearce has morphed from a bit-player to a key starter; and Paredes didn't join the team until Aug. 28.

Pearce provided the Orioles with the lead for good with a three-run drive off Drew Hutchison (10-12) in the first inning. Pearce has 18 home runs this year, one more than he had in 290 games as a part-timer from 2007-13.

Paredes hit a solo shot in the second to make it 4-2. It was his second homer in 10 games with Baltimore.

In addition, newcomer Alejandro De Aza hit a three-run triple in the seventh for a 7-2 lead. De Aza came to the Orioles in an Aug. 30 trade with the Chicago White Sox.

Jimenez (5-9) survived a rocky start to limit the Blue Jays to two runs and two hits over five innings in his third start since July 5. After signing a $50 million, four-year deal in the offseason, Jimenez struggled with his control for much of the season, sprained his ankle in a parking lot before the All-Star break and ultimately lost his place in the rotation.

Pressed into service because the Orioles played a doubleheader Friday, Jimenez issued four walks in the first two innings. But he bounced back to retire his last 10 batters.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Blue Jays: Steve Tolleson was available off the bench after being hit on the arm by teammate Munenori Kawasaki's foul ball while sitting in the dugout the previous night. "We got lucky," manager John Gibbons said.

Orioles: RHP Steve Johnson will have surgery to have a bone spur removed from the back of his right shoulder later this month and should be ready for 2015 spring training. He did not pitch for Baltimore this year.

UP NEXT

Bud Norris (13-8) brings a 7-1 record against AL East foes into a matchup with Toronto lefty J.A. Happ in the series finale.

Wed, 17 Sep 2014 02:15:00 +0000
Nats beat Braves to clinch another NL East title

ATLANTA (AP) The Washington Nationals are again champions of the NL East, wrapping up their second division title in three years against the team that knocked them out of the top spot last season.

Tanner Roark pitched five-hit ball over seven innings, Ian Desmond's two-run homer broke a scoreless tie and the Nationals celebrated another trip to the playoffs with a 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.

The clinching victory was especially sweet coming against the Braves, who finished 10 games ahead of the Nationals in 2013. The roles were reserved this season as Washington steadily pulled away down the stretch.

Atlanta lost for the 11th time in 14 games, further damaging its hopes of making a third straight playoff appearance as a wild card. The Braves dropped to 75-76 with their fifth straight loss, the first time they have been under .500 since losing on opening day to Milwaukee. They came into the night 4 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh for the second NL wild card and have only 11 games left in the regular season.

Roark (14-10) pitched around four leadoff singles by Atlanta, which never got a runner past second base. He struck out four and walked none, lifted after throwing 89 pitches. Tyler Clippard worked a scoreless eighth, and Drew Storen finished up for his seventh save.

The Nationals finally broke through in the sixth off Aaron Harang (11-11). After Jayson Werth led off with a walk, Adam LaRoche took a called third strike before Harang worked the count to 2-2 on Desmond.

The next pitch was a breaking pitch that stayed up in the zone. Desmond got all of it, sending a drive deep into the left-field seats for his 23rd homer of the season. Left fielder Justin Upton barely moved, while Harang pumped his fist angrily on the mound.

Desmond scored another run in the ninth, trotting home on David Carpenter's wild pitch.

The Nationals will be making only the third playoff appearance in the franchise's 46-year history. They reached the postseason only once as the Montreal Expos before moving to Washington in 2005.

Two years ago, the Nationals had a major league-leading 98 wins but were stunningly beaten by the St. Louis Cardinals in the deciding game of the NL division series. Washington jumped ahead 6-0 after three innings and still led 7-5 going to the ninth, only to give up four runs with two outs.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: LF Bryce Harper was back in the lineup after leaving Monday's game in the third inning when he felt light-headed. Manager Matt Williams said Harper had a "little bit of the gunk" that seemed to be going around in the Washington clubhouse. ... 3B Ryan Zimmerman (strained hamstring) continued his rehab in the instructional league, playing three innings at first base and getting five at-bats in a simulated game. "It was a good day," Williams said. Next up, Zimmerman will play five innings the next time out, three at third base and two at first base.

Braves: C Evan Gattis missed his eighth straight game since coming down with strep throat. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he doesn't know when Gattis will be healthy enough to return.

UP NEXT

Nationals: LHP Gio Gonzalez (8-10) has won two of his three starts in September after going nearly two months without a win.

Braves: LHP Alex Wood (10-10) has lasted at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his 22 starts. Atlanta is 5-7 in those games.

---

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Wed, 17 Sep 2014 01:55:00 +0000
Grand jury to weigh case of NASCAR's Tony Stewart

The decision whether to charge three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart in the August death of a fellow driver at a sprint car race in upstate New York will be up to a grand jury.

Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said Tuesday he made the decision to present the case to a grand jury after reviewing evidence collected by sheriff's investigators. Tantillo could have determined there was not enough evidence to support charges and dropped the case, but instead announced his decision more than a month after Stewart's car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at a dirt-track race on Aug. 9.

In a statement, Stewart said he respects the time and effort authorities have spent "investigating this tragic accident."

"I look forward to this process being completed, and I will continue to provide my full cooperation," he said.

Stewart-Haas Racing said Stewart will race in Sunday's NASCAR event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Stewart spent three weeks in seclusion before returning for the final two races of the Sprint Cup season. He did not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, and finished 18th in the first Chase race Sunday at Chicagoland.

County Sheriff Philip Povero spent weeks investigating the accident at the small track in Canandaigua, several times saying investigators did not have any evidence to support criminal intent by Stewart. Ward had spun while racing alongside Stewart and then the 20-year-old climbed out of his car and walked down the track, waving his arms in an apparent attempt to confront the 43-year-old NASCAR veteran.

"Upon my review of all of the information contained in the entire investigation," Tantillo said, "I have made the determination that it would be appropriate to submit the evidence to the grand jury for their determination as to what action should be taken in this matter."

He said the law prevented him from saying when the case would be scheduled or who would be called as witnesses.

Experts have said Stewart could be charged with second-degree manslaughter under New York law if prosecutors believe he "recklessly caused the death of another person," with negligent homicide another possibility.

The sheriff asked in the days after Ward's death for spectators to turn over photos and videos of the crash as investigators worked to reconstruct the accident. Among the things being looked at were the dim lighting, how muddy it was and whether Ward's dark firesuit played a role in his death, given the conditions.

In submitting his findings to the district attorney last week, Povero said they included a "forensic video enhancement" from state police.

After Ward's death, NASCAR announced a rule that prohibits drivers from climbing out of a crashed or disabled vehicle - unless it is on fire - until safety personnel arrive.

Stewart, who has 48 career Cup wins in 542 starts, is one of the biggest stars in the garage. From the small town of Columbus, Indiana, he has long been one of the most proficient drivers in racing, winning in every kind of series, from sprint cars to the elite Sprint Cup Series. He has for years taken part in little races in nondescript towns because he loves the thrill of the high horsepower, lightweight cars skidding around the dirt.

He rarely made his schedule public, popping up when he pleased, and he was welcome at the clay track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park the night before the NASCAR race in nearby Watkins Glen.

NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes said the series was closely following the case.

"We are aware of the completed investigation and the announced next steps," he said. "We will monitor this process and stay in close contact with Stewart-Haas Racing. It would be inappropriate for NASCAR to comment on this case so we will continue to respect the process and authorities involved."

Over the weekend, the No. 13 car belonging to Ward returned to racing at the Canadian Sprint Car Nationals at Ohsweken Speedway in Ontario. The car was driven by Ward's best friend, Dylan Swiernik, who finished 14th out of 30. Afterward, Ward's father said he would sell the sprint car that his son drove.

"Life," Kevin Ward Sr. told Canadian Press, "just isn't the same without him."

Tue, 16 Sep 2014 20:25:00 +0000
DA: Josh Gordon gets probation in DWI case in NC

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) A prosecutor said Tuesday that suspended Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon will receive probation and undergo a substance-abuse assessment after pleading guilty to a drunken-driving charge in North Carolina.

Acting Wake County district attorney Ned Mangum said Gordon received a 60-day suspended jail sentence and one year of unsupervised probation Tuesday.

The Pro Bowler is serving an NFL imposed season-long suspension for a failed marijuana test, though that could be reduced under proposed drug policy changes.

For his DWI, Gordon must also comply with any treatment recommended through the substance-abuse assessment, pay a $100 fine and court costs, and perform community service. His driver's license was also suspended.

Gordon's attorney, Trey Fitzhugh, entered the plea on Gordon's behalf on a charge of driving while impaired from a July arrest in Raleigh. Gordon was pulled for going 50 mph in a 35 mph zone and also charged with speeding, though Mangum said that charge was dismissed.

Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving last year, has been away from the Browns during his suspension and planned to work for a car dealership.

The players' union voted last week to accept a league proposal for drug policy changes that include HGH testing, an increase for the threshold that triggers a positive marijuana test and a two-game suspension for a player convicted of a drunken-driving charge.

Under provisions of the new policy, Gordon's suspension likely would be cut to 10 games. A union spokesman said Monday that changes "are currently getting finalized" by the league and union.

Gordon was due to first appear in Wake County court last month and the DWI case was continued until Nov. 18. But Mangum said the case was resolved Tuesday after Fitzhugh recently contacted his office to say Gordon wanted to plead guilty now.

Fitzhugh did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:51:00 +0000

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