January 17, 2013

By TOM COYNE

Associated Press

 

The wrenching story of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s girlfriend dying of leukemia — a loss he said inspired him to play his best all the way to the BCS championship — was dismissed by the school as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker.

Notre Dame said Wednesday night it believes Te’o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose “death” was then faked by the perpetrators of the hoax.

The school made the statement following a lengthy story by Deadspin.com, saying it could find no record that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online,” Te’o said in a statement. “We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.”

However, he stopped short of saying he had ever met her in person or correcting reports that said he had, though he did on numerous occasions talk about how special the relationship was to him.

“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating,” he said.

“In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.”

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a news conference that Te’o told coaches on Dec. 26 he had received a call while at an awards ceremony earlier in the month from Kekua’s phone number.

“When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same person he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead. Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine,” Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick said the school hired investigators and their report indicated those behind the hoax were in contact with each other, discussing what they were doing.

The investigators “were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking,” Swarbrick said. “The casualness among themselves they were talking about what they accomplished.”

Swarbrick said for Te’o “the pain was real.”

“The grief was real. The affection was real,” he said. “That’s the nature of this sad, cruel game.”

Swarbrick said Notre Dame did not take the matter to the police, saying that the school left it up to Te’o and his family to do so. He added that Notre Dame did not plan to release the findings of its investigation.

“We had no idea of motive, and that was really significant to us. ... Was somebody trying to create an NCAA violation at the core of this? Was there somebody trying to impact the outcome of football games by manipulating the emotions of a key player? Was there an extortion request coming? When you match the lack of sort of detail we lacked until we got some help investigating it with the risk involved, it was clear to me until we knew more we had to just to continue to work to try to gather the facts,” Swarbrick said.

The Deadspin report changed all that.

Friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a high school classmate of Te’o, told Deadspin they believe he created Kekua. She does not have a death certificate, Deadspin reported. Stanford, where she reportedly went to school, has no record of anybody by that name, the website said. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Tuiasosopo by telephone were unsuccessful.

Deadspin said a record search produced no obituary or funeral announce­ment. There is no record of her birth in the news.

There are a few Twitter and Instagram accounts registered to Lennay Kekua, but the website reported photographs identified as Kekua online and in TV news reports are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua, the website reported.

Still, Swarbrick said, “Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota.”

Te’o talked freely about their relationship after her supposed death and how much she meant to him.

In a story that appeared in The South Bend Tribune on Oct. 12, Manti’s father, Brian, recounted an anecdote about how his son and Kekua met after Notre Dame had played at Stanford in 2009. Brian Te’o also told the newspaper that Kekua had visited Hawaii and met with his son. Brian Te’o told the AP in an interview in October that he and his wife had never met Manti’s girlfriend but they had hoped to at the Wake Forest game in November. The father said he believed the relationship was just beginning to get serious when she died.

The Tribune released a statement saying: “At the Tribune, we are as stunned by these revelations as everyone else. Indeed, this season we reported the story of this fake girlfriend and her death as details were given to us by Te’o, members of his family and his coaches at Notre Dame.”

The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters when asked that Te’o’s grandmother and a friend had died. Te’o didn’t miss the game. He said Kekua had told him not to miss a game if she died. Te’o turned in one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 victory in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish’s undefeated regular season.

“My family and my girlfriend’s family have received so much love and support from the Notre Dame family,” he said after that game. “Michigan State fans showed some love. And it goes to show that people understand that football is just a game, and it’s a game that we play, and we have fun doing it. But at the end of the day, what matters is the people who are around you, and family. I appreciate all the love and support that everybody’s given my family and my girlfriend’s family.”

He was asked again about his girlfriend on Jan. 3 prior to the BCS title game, saying: “This team is very special to me, and the guys on it have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad times. I rarely have a quiet time to myself because I always have somebody calling me, asking, ‘Do you want to go to the movies?’ Coach is always calling me asking me, ‘Are you OK? Do you need anything?’”

Te’o was a Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing second in the voting, and led Notre Dame to its first appearance in the BCS championship. His widely reported story was among the most heartwarming of the season.

“It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life,” Te’o said in his statement.

“I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.”

Te’o and the Irish lost the title game to Alabama, 42-14 on Jan. 7. He has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this week.

“Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life,” he said in his statement, “and I’m looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.”

 

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January 17, 2013

By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH  Associated Press

 

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit when he shot his girlfriend nine times and then killed himself in front of his coach and general manager, an autopsy released Monday showed.

The Jackson County Medical Examiner report on Belcher, 25, raised new questions about whether police should have done more before the Dec. 1 murder-suicide. Officers found Belcher sleeping in his idling car about five hours earlier, but let him go inside a nearby apartment to sleep it off.

At the time of the autopsy, Belcher's BAC was 0.17, more than twice the limit of 0.08 percent for Missouri drivers, and it was likely higher when he shot girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, 22, at the couple's Kansas City home.

A police report released previously said Belcher had gone out the night before with a woman he was dating on the side while Perkins attended a concert with her friends.

Police who found Belcher sleeping in his Bentley outside the woman's apartment told him to turn off the ignition and he complied, the report said.

The report said Belcher "initially displayed possible signs of being under the influence (asleep and disoriented)." But the report added that after a few minutes of being awake his "demeanor and communication became more fluid and coherent." The report added that officers didn't smell alcohol on Belcher, and that there were no signs of him being "violent or emotionally unstable."

Under both city ordinance and state law, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated, city prosecutor Lowell C. Gard said in an email. He said a vehicle doesn't need to be in motion for it to be determined that the person behind the wheel was operating it.

"Operation has been defined in Missouri courts to include a wide range of activity, including sitting behind the wheel of a parked car with the engine running, and sitting alone behind the wheel of a parked car with a warm, but shut off, engine," Gard wrote. "However, problems of proof arise when the arresting officer must provide evidence of that operation contemporaneous with intoxication."

Kansas City police Sgt. Marisa Barnes said in an email she wasn't aware of anyone being disciplined over the case. Even if they were, she said, she wouldn't be able to discuss it.

Belcher asked the officers who found him if he could stay inside the apartment for the night. Belcher tried to call his girlfriend, but she didn't discover the missed calls until the next morning. Two women who were up late invited Belcher to wait inside their nearby apartment after he explained his plight. They said Belcher "appeared to be intoxicated" but "seemed to be in good spirits," the police report said.

Belcher slept on their couch for a couple hours, leaving at 6:45 a.m. so he could make it to a team meeting planned for later that morning.

Upon arriving at the home he shared with Perkins, the couple began arguing. Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, who had moved in with them about two weeks earlier, heard multiple gunshots and ran to the bedroom, where she saw Belcher kneeling next to Perkins' body, saying he was sorry. The autopsy report says Perkins was shot in the neck, chest, abdomen, hip, back, leg and hand.

After kissing Perkins, his baby daughter and his mother, Belcher drove to Arrowhead Stadium. The autopsy said Belcher shot himself in the right temple as coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli looked on.

The infant, Zoe, is the subject of a custody fight between relatives of Belcher and Perkins.

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January 17, 2013

Associated Press

 

Listen up! Talk trash to Carmelo Anthony at Madison Square Garden and you may wind up on tape.

Days after Anthony’s overreaction to some bad words led to an NBA suspension, MSG chairman James Dolan had listening devices monitoring everything said to and by Anthony, according to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger.

The report Monday said Dolan had two MSG Network audio technicians stationed at opposite corners of the court during last week’s home game against Chicago. Holding umbrella-shaped parabola microphones, they were told to record Anthony’s interactions and send the tape directly to Dolan himself.

The Knicks did not comment on the report. The team left Monday night for a game Thursday in London against Detroit.

Anthony and Boston forward Kevin Garnett exchanged words during the Celtics’ 102-96 victory on Jan. 7. Anthony, clearly thrown off his game and finishing just 6-of-26 from the field, then tried to confront Garnett near the locker room and team bus following the game, and received a one-game suspension from the NBA.

Anthony would not reveal what was said by Garnett, only that it was something he felt a man shouldn’t say to another man.

Dolan apparently wants to ability to hear for himself.

Teams routinely send videotape of plays they felt should have been fouls to the league office, and perhaps Dolan wants to be able to provide NBA officials with audio proof of what goes on with Anthony.

Dolan hasn’t taken questions from reporters covering the Knicks in nearly six years, but remains keenly interested and insistent in knowing what is going on with the team. Public relations officials used to record interviews with players and coaches, and they continue to listen and take notes of what is said.

General manager Glen Grunwald rarely conducts interviews and Dolan is such a stickler for his media rules that when he fired Larry Brown in 2006, he withheld payment for cause because Brown had conducted a roadside interview with reporters without a public relations official present, in violation of MSG rules.

An NBA spokesman said there was nothing wrong with the extra equipment — there already were additional microphones around the court Friday because it was a national TV game — and added that the league doesn’t comment on anything teams send for review.

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January 17, 2013

By BARRY WILNER  Associated Press

 

It's unanimous, on both sides of the ball.

Vikings 2,000-yard man Adrian Peterson and Texans pass-swatting end J.J. Watt were unanimous choices for The Associated Press All-Pro team announced Saturday January 12.

Peterson, who came within 9 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, and Watt, who led the NFL with 20 1-2 sacks, were selected by all 50 members of a nationwide panel of media members who cover the league.

Peterson is a three-time All-Pro, while Watt represents lots of new blood. He's among 17 players making their All-Pro debuts.

"Obviously it's a huge honor, especially for being such a young guy," said Watt, a second-year pro. "It's crazy to even think about. It's very humbling and very motivating. It makes me want to do it again and again."

Peyton Manning made his sixth team, the previous five while quarterbacking Indianapolis. He led Denver to the AFC's best record, 13-3.

Also chosen for the sixth time was Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, who this season moved into second place on the career receptions list. San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis made it for the fifth time in his six pro seasons.

The 49ers had the most All-Pros, six: Willis, fellow LBs NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, guard Mike Iupati, safety Dashon Goldson and punter Andy Lee.

"As an organization, we take great pride in the success and recognition of our players," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. "This type of acknowledgement only comes from hard work and a team-first mentality, which all six of these men exhibit on a daily basis. They play the game the way it was meant to be played, and are very deserving of this honor."

Seattle was next with RB Marshawn Lynch, center Max Unger, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas. All were selected for the first time.

Sherman was incensed when he didn't make the Pro Bowl. He was thrilled with the news he made the All-Pro team "because that's comparing the whole league."

" That is taking individuals and saying they are the best in the NFL at that position and that's what I wanted to be," Sherman said. " The Pro Bowl is taking three from each side, it's more of a popularity contest. The All-Pro, you're the best at your position. It doesn't matter if you're a fifth-rounder or fourth-rounder or undrafted. If you play the best, you're All-Pro."

Denver had three All-Pros: LB Von Miller, tackle Ryan Clady and Manning. No other team had more than two.

The NFC had 17 players and only 10 made it from the AFC.

One rookie, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh, was chosen.

Also on offense were Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach, making it for the third straight year; Detroit WR Calvin Johnson and Chicago WR Brandon Marshall; Houston tackle Duane Brown; New Orleans guard Jahri Evans, making his fourth consecutive appearance; Baltimore kick returner Jacoby Jones; Miami DE Cameron Wake; Cincinnati DT Geno Atkins and New England DT Vince Wilfork; and Chicago CB Charles Tillman.

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January 10, 2013

By TIM BOOTH 

Associated Press

 

Investor Chris Hansen has contacted the Maloof family about buying the Sacramento Kings, setting up the possibility of the NBA’s return to Seattle.

Hansen’s interest was confirmed Wednesday by people with knowledge of the situation. They spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because no deal has been reached.

One person said the Kings could sell for more than $500 million. The Kings’ future in Sacramento has been uncertain because the Maloofs and the city haven’t been able to come up with a long-term arena solution.

Yahoo! Sports first reported the discussions between the Kings and Hansen. Yahoo! reported a possible sale could land the Kings in Seattle for the 2013-14 season where the team would play at KeyArena as a temporary home until a new arena is constructed.

“I know as much as you do,” Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said when asked about the situation. “If it’s true, ain’t it cool?”

His counterpart in Sacramento thought the news anything but cool. At an afternoon news conference, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said Wednesday was significant because for the first time Kings fans know the team is for sale. Johnson said he would do all he could to try to find a buyer with a Sacramento connection to possibly purchase the team and keep it in California’s capital city.

Hansen, a Seattle native and San Francisco-based investor, reached agreement with local governments in Seattle last October on plans to build a $490 million arena near the city’s other stadiums: CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field. As part of the agreement, no construction will begin until all environmental reviews are completed and a team has been secured.

Hansen’s group is expected to pitch in $290 million in private investment toward the arena, along with helping to pay for transportation improvements in the area around the stadiums. The plans also call for the arena to be able to handle a future NHL franchise. The remaining $200 million in public financing would be paid back with rent money and admissions taxes from the arena, and if that money falls short, Hansen would be responsible for making up the rest. Other investors in the proposed arena include Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom department store family.

Hansen’s goal has been to return the SuperSonics to the Puget Sound after they were moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008. Asked in September if he could envision a team being in Seattle for the 2013 season, Hansen was cautious about finding an option that quickly.

The NBA had no comment. Representatives for Hansen did not return messages seeking comment. Any franchise looking to relocate must submit their plans to the NBA by March 1 and the move must be approved by the league.

“As we have said for nearly a year, we will not comment on rumors or speculation about the Sacramento Kings franchise,” Maloof family spokesman Eric Rose said when contacted Wednesday by the AP.

The Kings’ asking price would top the NBA-record $450 million the Golden State Warriors sold for in July 2010. Johnson said he’s had past discussions with more than one group about possibly stepping forward as owners if the Kings were up for sale.

“All indications that I have seen and read and heard is they are exploring opportunities to sell the team and that is public and that is the first I have ever heard,” Johnson said. “We need to put ourselves in a position to find an ownership group and buyers to keep the team here in Sacramento.”

Johnson said he had not spoken with any members of the Maloof family or NBA Commissioner David Stern on Wednesday.

News of the discussions came a day after officials in Virginia Beach, Va., announced they were dropping their efforts to build a new arena. Virginia Beach was thought to be a relocation option for the Kings.

The Maloofs backed out of a tentative $391 million deal for a new downtown arena with Sacramento last year, reigniting fears the franchise could relocate. Johnson and the Kings broke off all negotiations in the summer with the Kings saying the deal didn’t make financial sense for the franchise.

In 2011, the Kings appeared determined to move to Anaheim before Johnson convinced the NBA to give the city one last chance to help finance an arena. At one point, Johnson seemed so certain the team was gone he called the process a “slow death” and compared the city’s efforts to keep the Kings a “Hail Mary.”

Johnson made a desperate pitch to the NBA Board of Governors in April 2011, promising league owners the city would find a way to help finance a new arena to replace the team’s current outdated suburban facility. He also bought time by presenting more than $10 million in commitments for new advertising, ticket purchases and other financial support from regional businesses for this season.

The NBA’s relocation committee, headed by Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett — who moved the team now known as the Thunder from Seattle in 2008 — recommended that the league give the city a shot to follow through and handed down a March 1 deadline to come up with a plan to help finance an arena. Johnson delivered the agreement that March 1 to send the plan to the City Council.

On the night of March 6, 2012, the Sacramento City Council passed a deal — brokered by the NBA and with Stern’s blessing — for a new downtown arena. A sea of supporters packed the grounds for the vote, which seemingly saved the Kings from relocation.

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