April 11, 2013

By MARYCLAIRE DALE Associated Press

 

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody has a billion-dollar problem on her hands.

Brody, of Philadelphia, heard arguments Tuesday on whether lawsuits that accuse the NFL of glorifying violence and hiding known concussion risks belong in court or in arbitration.

Brody could side with the 4,200 players and let them pursue lawsuits, or she could rule for the league and find that head injuries are covered under health provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

Or she could issue a split decision, letting some of the fraud and negligence claims against the NFL move forward in court. Her decision could be worth more than a billion dollars - and is expected to be appealed by either side, spawning years of litigation.

“There are people who aren’t going to be able to be around long enough to find out the end of this case, and my husband is one of them,” said Eleanor Perfetto, the widow of guard Ralph Wenzel, who played for Pittsburgh and San Diego from 1966 to 1973. “He died last June, and I’m here for him. He was sick for almost two decades and, in the end, had very, very severe, debilitating dementia.”

In the closely-watched court arguments Tuesday, NFL lawyer Paul Clement insisted that teams bear the chief responsibility for health and safety under the contract, along with the players’ union and the players themselves.

“The clubs are the ones who had doctors on the sidelines who had primary responsibility for sending players back into the game,” Clement said at a news conference after the hearing.

The players argue that the league “glorified” and “monetized” violence through NFL Films, thereby profiting from vicious hits to the head.

Players’ lawyer David Frederick also accused the league of concealing studies linking concussions to neurological problems for decades, even after the NFL created a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee in 1994. The panel was led by a rheumatologist.

“It set up a sham committee designed to get information about neurological risks, but in fact spread misinformation,” Frederick argued.

In recent years, scores of former NFL players and other concussed athletes have been diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, including popular Pro Bowler Junior Seau and lead plaintiff Ray Easterling. Both committed suicide last year.

About one-third of the league’s 12,000 former players have joined the litigation since Easterling filed suit in 2011. Some are battling dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s disease, and fault the league for rushing them back on the field after concussions. Others are worried about future problems and want their health monitored.

Brody honed in on whether the collective bargaining agreement specifies that head injuries are workplace safety issues and belong in arbitration.

“It has to be really specific. That’s what I have to wrestle with,” she said.

Frederick called the contract “silent” on latent head injuries, and said players therefore have the right to seek damages in court. Brody is not expected to rule for several months.

Players and family members on hand for the hearing included Kevin Turner, a former Philadelphia Eagles running back now battling Lou Gehrig’s disease; Dorsey Levens, a veteran running back who made a 2012 documentary on concussions called “Bell Rung,” and Easterling’s widow, Mary Ann.

One wrinkle in the NFL’s argument is what it calls the “gap year” players, who played from 1987 to 1993, when there was no collective bargaining agreement in place. The league, eager to avoid opening up its files in a court case, argues that those players were bound by previous contracts or contracts later in effect when they collected pensions.

“I certainly admit that the gap year players ... are the most difficult cases,” said Clement.

However, he said very few people played only those years, and not before or after. For most, “there’s no way to say the only hits that hurt you are the hits from those years,” he said.

Tom McHale played in the NFL from 1987 to 1995, before the All-Ivy League athlete died of an accidental overdose in 2008. He was 45 and had battled depression and addiction toward the end of his life.

Lisa McHale, of Tampa, Fla., hardly recognized her once-gregarious husband. After his death, he was also diagnosed with CTE. She believes the player lawsuits, and the willingness of retired players to go public with their problems, will help her three teenage sons understand their father’s illness.

“To know it wasn’t his fault, that there was something neurological going on, it helps,” she said.

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

April 04, 2013

By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI Associated Press

 

HOUSTON (AP) -- Relatives and hometown supporters of the nation’s first Black heavyweight boxing champion are turning to YouTube to convince President Barack Obama to posthumously pardon him of a 1913 conviction for accompanying a white woman across state lines.

Jack Johnson, nicknamed the “Galveston Giant” after his Texas hometown, was at the center of racial tensions after winning the title in 1908. When he defended his title by defeating white boxer Jim Jeffries in 1910, dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” the victory sparked deadly race riots across the county.

Three years later, Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury for violating a Jim Crow-era law that made it illegal to transport white women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” He was sentenced to a year in prison.

His family and other supporters say he did nothing wrong and that the century-old conviction continues to tarnish Johnson’s image. Lawmakers have asked for a pardon three times in the past decade, most recently in March, though none has been successful. The Justice Department has said its general policy is not to process posthumous pardon requests, and the White House declined to comment on the most recent congressional resolution.

So on Sunday, to mark what would have been Johnson’s 135th birthday, his relatives and supporters gathered in Galveston to honor him and record a video to go straight to Obama.

Leon Phillips, president of the Galveston County Coalition for Justice, which helped spearhead the effort, told The Associated Press on Tuesday the video adds another layer of support.

“Not only is it coming from Congress, but it will be coming from the citizens of the United States if we can just get everyone to click on that like button,” he said. “President Obama’s father could have been convicted of the same thing because he was married to a white woman and they traveled all over the world and from state to state.”

Johnson’s great-great niece, Linda Haywood, said Johnson was “railroaded” by authorities.

“I didn’t know the man was my uncle until I was 12 years old, that’s how ashamed my family was of the fact that he went to prison. A pardon would erase the shame and the stigma and allow us to hold our heads up high because we know what a great man he was,” Haywood said in the video.

“I’m asking President Obama as the first African-American president to give my uncle a pardon,” she said. “A lot of times when he would come to his sister’s house or his mother’s house he had to sneak at night with his white girlfriend or his wife because of the times that they lived in.”

Authorities first targeted Johnson’s relationship with Lucille Cameron, who later became his wife, but she refused to cooperate. They then turned to his former mistress, a prostitute named Belle Schreiber, to testify that Johnson had paid her train fare from Pittsburgh to Chicago, for immoral purposes.

Johnson skipped bail and fled the country following his conviction, but in 1920 he agreed to return and serve his sentence.

So far, the YouTube video hasn’t had too many hits. But Haywood and other relatives are determined to get a pardon to clear Johnson’s name.

“The color of your skin should not determine who you, or how you, love,” Haywood said in the video.

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April 04, 2013

By CHARLES ODUM (AP Sports Writer)

 

Brian Banks said signing with the Atlanta Falcons is his second-biggest accomplishment.

The biggest was Banks' exoneration of rape charges one year ago.

Banks, 27, signed with the Falcons on Wednesday, giving him an opportunity he said he did not believe would be possible when he spent five years in prison and five years on probation following his conviction of rape and kidnapping charges a decade ago.

''I felt at the time in order for me to exit prison with a sane mind and be able to just function as a person I had to let go of certain dreams and goals I once held in life, football being one of them,'' Banks said.

Banks said he ''couldn't have asked for a better place to be'' than with the Falcons.

''I can't believe this is happening,'' he said. ''It's surreal.''

Banks was a 16-year-old junior and had made a verbal commitment to sign with Southern Cal when a Long Beach Poly high school classmate accused him of the rape.

The woman recanted her claim and offered to help Banks clear his name after he was out of prison. That helped lead to the conviction being overturned by a California court and Banks' record cleared on May 12, 2012.

Banks said he read every book he could find while in prison and also learned to value every opportunity.

''It's almost impossible to explain, the feeling of not having freedom, to be stripped away of your freedom, of your dignity, the respect you once had,'' he said. ''To lose it all and watch the world pass you by as you sit inside a prison cell, knowing you shouldn't be there, knowing you're there because of another person's lies, to lose it all and then get it all back, it's a very humbling, spiritual feeling that you just don't want to take anything for granted.

''I've had the opportunity to see both sides of the human spirit. ... My journey has been crazy but my journey has been a learning experience that is unlike any other.''

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Banks will be given an opportunity to win a spot on the team at inside linebacker. He met with Falcons coach Mike Smith at the team's facility Wednesday.

''I had a really amazing one-on-one conversation with him,'' Banks said. ''He congratulated me and said he was happy for me to be here but this was just the beginning of a long road to making that next step and making that 53-man roster. We both agreed that I don't expect any handouts or any favoritism. I'm here to work like everybody else and the result of my hard work will be whatever they deem necessary.

''All I can do is my best and however the turnout will be, I thank God for the opportunity.''

Banks will participate in Atlanta's offseason workouts, which begin on April 22.

The Falcons are the first NFL team to sign Banks, but he has had chances with other teams. He took part in the Seattle Seahawks' minicamp last June following workouts with Kansas City and San Diego. He had one tackle in two games with Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League (UFL).

Banks also worked out for the Falcons before the 2012 season.

''We had a chance to work him out last year and have been monitoring his progress since then,'' said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff in a statement released by the team. ''He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity. We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NFL and we look forward to seeing him on the field.''

Banks has become a spokesman for the California Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongly accused.

He said he is working with producer James Moll on a documentary about his story. He said publishing companies are interested in a book.

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Category: Sports

April 04, 2013

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Reggie Theus is returning to college basketball to coach the men’s team at Cal State Northridge.

Athletic director Brandon Martin announced the hiring of the former NBA player on Wednesday. Theus succeeds Bobby Braswell, who was fired March 17 after 17 years that included three 20-win seasons, two NCAA tournament appearances and a 251-258 record.

Martin calls it “a game-changing hire” for the Big West school, saying it will help the Matadors build a national profile. It’s also Martin’s first big hire since he officially began as AD on Monday.

Theus signed a multiyear contract that takes effect April 15. He has coach of the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA’s D-League since October 2011.

“I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to get back into college basketball,” he said in a statement. “This is what I really want to do. To have an opportunity to coach in my hometown area is really a dream for me. This is what I really wanted.”

He will be introduced on Friday.

The Matadors were 14-17 this season, when they won their first seven games and then lost six of their final seven. They finished ninth among 10 teams in the Big West with a 5-13 record, and failed to make the conference tournament.

“This is a program that everybody in the near future is going to be proud of,” Theus said. “If the team is willing to work, it’s going to happen.”

Theus coached at New Mexico State from 2005-07, compiling a 41-23 record with one NCAA tourney berth. He was an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville from 2003-05. In Theus’ second season there, the Cardinals reached the Final Four.

He also had coaching stints in the NBA, running the Sacramento Kings from 2007-09 and serving as an assistant at Minnesota from 2009-11.

He played 13 years in the NBA after a college career at UNLV.

Theus becomes the fifth men's basketball coach in the program’s 55-year history.

He is the third coach hired at a Division I school in Los Angeles in recent days after UCLA hired Steve Alford and Southern California hired Andy Enfield.

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April 04, 2013

By JANIE McCAULEY (AP Sports Writer)

 

Free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha reached agreement on a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday that could pay him as much as $3 million this year.

Asomugha's representative, Ben Dogra, said that Asomugha is expected to sign his new deal Wednesday. He was busy taking high school students around his familiar Bay Area turf on Tuesday in an effort to show them their future options and college choices.

The contract has no guaranteed money. Asomugha is due to earn a base package of $1.35 million with salary and bonuses, and could make an additional $1.65 million in incentives for playing time, awards such as the Pro Bowl and reaching the playoffs.

''He's excited to be a 49er and feels it's a great football team, and he's returning home,'' Dogra said in a phone interview. ''It's such a unique set of circumstances that he's coming back. It's not about the money for him. He wants to play for a winner. He had a very good visit with them 10 days ago and again over the weekend. He thinks they have a great chance to win a Super Bowl and he wants to be part of it. He has a chip on his shoulder, in a good way.''

The former All-Pro was released by the Philadelphia Eagles on March 12 after two disappointing seasons - and now he is ready to help the 49ers return to the Super Bowl and win after losing 34-31 to the Ravens on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. Now, he gets another start right back where his football career began.

The 31-year-old Asomugha spent his first eight NFL seasons, from 2003-2010 with the Oakland Raiders, who selected him 31st overall in the first round of the 2003 draft out of nearby California in Berkeley. He made three Pro Bowls during his time with Oakland.

Playing in the 49ers' talented secondary means more to Asomugha at this stage of his career than a hefty pay day. Before his release in Philadelphia on the first day of free agency last month, he had been due to make $15 million this season, including $4 million guaranteed, after signing a $60 million, five-year deal with the Eagles in 2011.

''He believes in karma and timing,'' Dogra said. ''He wants to show everybody it's not about the money for him. He wants to prove something. He could have walked away and retired. He wants to play for a winner. He's inspired. He wants to be part of a great team and take care of unfinished business from last year. He wants to end this on his terms. Hopefully, he can get a ring and stay happy.''

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