June 28, 2012

By KYLE HIGHTOWER | Associated Press 

 

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The NBA remains the leader among professional sports leagues in diversity hiring practices, according to a report released Tuesday.

The University of Central Florida's Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport gave the NBA an A-plus for racial hiring and A-minus for gender hiring in its annual Racial and Gender Report Card. The league received an overall grade of A.

It is the third straight report that the NBA has scored at least an A for both race and gender.

Primary study author Richard Lapchick said NBA Commissioner David Stern's leadership is one of the biggest reasons why the league continues to be a model in diversity from front office executives to coaches and players.

"I think everybody else changed over the years because of pressure, but I think the NBA started with David Stern to apply its own internal pressure to make the league office and teams look more like America," Lapchick said. "Because he's been so respected for so long from pretty much everybody involved in NBA and in other leagues, it has heightened his status even further. They know what his priorities are and try to implement them."

For the first time in NBA history, there were more head coaches of color (53 percent) than white head coaches. Also, African-Americans comprised 47 percent of all NBA coaches, the highest percentage since the 2001-02 season.

The 20-percentage point increase in coaches of color was the greatest for people of color in any position in 2011-2012.

"Having that many coaches of color is big. I'm not sure I thought I'd see that day," Lapchick said.

In the NBA league office, 34 percent of all professional employees are people of color and 42 percent are women. There were also six more women in vice president positions at the league office during the 2011-2012 season than in last year's report, increasing the total to 39 positions.

Lapchick said that though the NBA consistently has outpaced other major professional leagues, they still have some room to improve when it comes to gender hiring at the team level, where women make up 18 percent of vice president and 25 percent of senior administrator positions.

But he also noted that the increasing presence of women and minorities of color in ownership roles would surely lead to improvement because "they bring their life experiences and knowledge of qualified people" to their jobs. There were 20 people of color with ownership stakes in teams this past season and 15 women in ownership roles.

It's also why Lapchick said he believes the NBA has avoided instituting mandates like the NFL's Rooney Rule, which mandates teams interview a minority for open coaching positions.

"I once had a conversation with Stern in which he said he wanted to get to the stage when no one notices when you hire a person of color or when they fire a person of color," Lapchick said. "He said he wanted it to be that people would see they were just trying to hire the best person. That's permeated through the league and something I hope a lot of people will take note of."

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 June 28, 2012

 

By HOWARD FENDRICH | Associated Press

 

 

 

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — On one point Tuesday at Wimble­don, Serena Williams dumped a forehand into the net and dropped to a knee, her jaw clenched as she let out a shriek.

 

On another, she pushed a backhand into the net while her feet gave way, yet again leaving her awkwardly splayed on the grass at Court 2, the same place where her sister Venus lost a day earlier.

 

By the end, the younger Williams was screaming after nearly every point, good or bad — and, well, there were plenty of both. Her harder-than-the-score-looked 6-2, 6-4 victory over the 62nd-ranked Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic in the first round at the All England Club wasn’t exactly perfect or pretty.

 

“Definitely a little relief,” the sixth-seeded Williams said. “I was letting out a lot of cries. I was happy to get through that.”

 

Yes, Williams got the job done, something she couldn’t say the last time she was at a major championship. Last month at the French Open, the 30-year-old American tossed away a big lead — nine times, she was two points from victory — and lost to a woman ranked 111th, the only first-round exit of Williams’ career in 48 Grand Slam tournaments.

 

“I learned that you got to ... keep going,” Williams said about that stunning defeat. “I was really disappointed. Obviously, I was extremely disappointed. But as Kelly Clarkson says, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ ”

 

In part because of a series of health scares that sidelined her for about 10 months, Williams has gone two years since the most recent of her 13 major titles, including four at Wimbledon. And even though she bowed out quickly in Paris, Williams is a popular pick to do well this fortnight.

 

“For me, when I’m playing a match,” Williams said, “I either win it or lose it.”

 

She’ll want to play better than she did against Zahlavova Strycova, who is 0-21 against top-10 opponents, 13-27 in Grand Slam matches, and never has made it past the third round at any major.

 

Some other top players were sluggish at the start against unheralded foes Tuesday, when action was cut short in the evening because of rain.

 

Two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal, for instance, trailed 4-0 against 80th-ranked Thomas Bellucci of Brazil before turning it around and winning 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-3.

 

“Fantastic for me,” Nadal said, “but I have to improve a lot for the next round.”

 

Defending women’s champion Petra Kvitova fell behind 3-0 and 4-1 but eventually used a seven-game run to take control and beat 96th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova 6-4, 6-4. The match was halted by a 30-minute rain delay in the second set; when they returned, Kvitova needed all of three minutes to wrap things up.

 

“In the beginning,” Kvitova acknowledged, “I think I was nervous.”

 

Twelve singles matches were suspended in progress and four were postponed altogether. Among those that began but didn't finish, 2003 U.S. Open champion and three-time Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick led British wild-card entry Jamie Baker by a set and a break; French Open finalist Sara Errani was a point from beating U.S. qualifier CoCo Vandeweghe; and 21st-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada was a game from eliminating Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, leading by two sets and 5-4 in the third.

 

Winners included 10th-seeded Mardy Fish of the United States, playing his first match since having a medical procedure on his heart a month ago. The 30-year-old Fish hit 24 aces and defeated Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo of Spain 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-6 (1), then didn’t attend a postmatch news conference; a tour spokesman said Fish wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t elaborate.

 

All three Australian men in action Tuesday exited, meaning none reached the second round at the All England Club for the first time since 1938. No. 20 Bernard Tomic, a quarterfinalist at 18 years old in 2011, was knocked out by David Goffin, the Belgian wild-card recipient who took a set off Roger Federer in the fourth round of the French Open; 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt lost to No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; and Matthew Ebden was beaten by Benoit Paire of France.

 

“The boys didn’t have the best day,” said Hewitt, who used to be ranked No. 1 but has dealt with a series of injuries, is now 202nd, and needed a wild card to get into the field.

 

He hadn’t bowed out in the first round at Wimbledon since 2003. Williams never has. Never lost before the third round, actually, and now is 13-0 in openers at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.

 

Last year, Williams questioned why tournament organizers assigned her and her sister to play on Court 2 rather than the larger and more prestigious Centre Court or Court 1. They have, after all, won a total of nine singles championships at Wimbledon and faced each other in four of those finals.

 

Given that Venus lost in straight sets on Court 2 on Monday, and Serena went through a workout to win there on Tuesday, the issue came up.

 

“I can’t even talk about it. I’m over it,” Williams said, raising her left palm. “I just can’t talk about that right now. I’m not in the mood.”

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June 28, 2012

By LINDSEY TANNER | Associated Press

 

CHICAGO (AP) — The most dangerous time for amateur athletes may not be during the heat of the game or even in rigorous practices. A total of 21 college football players have collapsed and died during conditioning workouts since 2000 — many on the first few days, when even the fittest players are often pushed too hard.

 

There’s little regulation of these sessions, and coaches “just run willy-nilly” trying to make men out of boys, said athletic trainer Douglas Casa. “A lot of them are not focused on health and safety issues.”

 

Conditioning sessions typically include running sprints, lifting weights, and endurance exercises. Games and practices have more oversight and safeguards. These include heat acclimatization rules limiting equipment worn, intensity and number of sessions for summer practices. Between 2000 and 2011, there were no deaths among top-level college football players in practices or games.

 

Now, health and sports professionals are seeking to make conditioning sessions just as safe. They have collaborated to create the first consensus guidelines on preventing sudden deaths during these workouts. The sessions last about two hours each and most run from January to June or July, depending on the sport, though some teams schedule them throughout the year.

 

The football conditioning deaths “generally occurred with excessive exercise under the direction of a coach, often in extreme conditions, and in some cases with staff inadequately prepared to deal with the emergency in a timely or appropriate fashion,” said Dr. Jolie Holschen, a Chicago emergency medicine and sports medicine specialist and co-author of the new guidelines.

 

The same recommendations are good advice for high schools and younger athletes, too, not just to prevent deaths but to keep players safe at every stage in every sport, said Casa, the University of Connecticut’s athletic training education director. He helped draft the new guidelines.

 

The most common causes of the 21 NCAA deaths were heat stroke, heart conditions and a genetic trait related to sickle cell anemia that affected 10 athletes who died. Under ordinary conditions it doesn’t cause problems. But pushing athletes with the trait too hard can disrupt the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to muscles, which can be deadly. Casa said about 10 percent of black athletes carry the trait; smaller numbers of whites and Hispanics have it too.

 

U.S. infants are tested at birth for the trait, and the NCAA in 2010 began requiring blood tests for it in Division I athletes after Rice Uni­versity football player Dale Lloyd II died during a conditioning workout in 2006. The requirement for Division II athletes took effect this year.

 

“At the high school level, we still have to rely on birth records,” which coaches may not have access to, Casa said.

 

Bridgette Lloyd, the Rice player’s mother, said she supports the move to make conditioning workouts safer.

 

“Our mission and goal since we lost our son has been more awareness. They need to be trained what to look for in any athlete, not just sickle cell trait,” she said.

 

The new recommendations stress that conditioning workouts should be phased in rather than start at maximum intensity on day one. Exercise should not be used as punishment. Conditioning coaches should be trained in health and safety issues; certified in first aid, resuscitation and heart defibrillation; know which ­athletes have sickle cell trait; and know how to recognize signs and treat exercise-related complications from the condition. And they should be present during all conditioning sessions.

 

The recommendations come from several groups, including the National Athletic Trainers Association, the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American College of Emergency Physicians. They were released Wednesday at the National Athletic Trainers Association annual meeting in St. Louis.

 

NCAA has policies echoing some of the recommendations and is evaluating the others, said David Klossner, the NCAA’s director of health safety.

 

“We’re supportive of the effort to address these issues that they raise,” he said.

 

The guidelines challenge “the old athletic mentality that if a little bit is good, a lot must be better,” said Jim Thornton, president of the trainers’ association and head athletic trainer at Clarion University in Clarion, Pa.

 

Thornton said the new advice highlights the need better oversight in high schools, too. Many high schools have no athletic trainer and practices for many sports often take place without anyone trained in first aid present, he said.

 

“It’s like dropping a kid off at a swimming pool with no lifeguard,” he said.

 

Many of the athlete injuries cited involve a muscle-damaging condition called exertional rhabdomyolysis, rhabdo for short. Intense exertion can cause muscle cells to leak enzymes and protein into the blood. Symptoms include extreme muscle pain and dark urine. Severe cases can lead to kidney failure and sudden death.

 

Avoiding sudden, intense exertion and drinking plenty of fluids can help.

 

Reported cases include 13 University of Iowa football players hospitalized last year after a too-strenuous offseason weightlifting session and 12 Oregon high school football players treated in 2010 after an intense preseason workout.

 

“Working athletes longer and harder is not exercising smart,” said Holschen, the Chicago physician.

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June 28, 2012

By TIM REYNOLDS | Associated Press

  

MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James got a standing ovation from the studio audience as he began his appearance on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman."

 

And at the end of the interview, James even got a compliment from Letterman — who was not exactly a fan of his joining the Miami Heat to begin with.

 

The newly crowned NBA Finals MVP appeared on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" in New York on Tuesday night, and Letterman wasted no time before asking a tough question. The first offering from the late-night host: "Well, now that you've got this out of your system, are you ready to go back to Cleveland and play some ball?"

 

James laughed it off. "Right now, I'll play no ball right now," James said.

 

Letterman had taken a jab or two at James in the past about his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, saying Tuesday that he was "furious" about the move. In a 2010 episode of "Late Show," Letterman told Jay-Z — a minority owner of the Nets — that if James left it would "cut the heart out of" Cleveland. And after the Heat lost in last season's finals, actress Betty White read Letterman's nightly Top 10 list of her "tips for living a long and healthy life."

 

No. 2 on that night's list?

 

"Never dwell on past mistakes," White said, "especially you, LeBron."

 

But on Tuesday, there were no mistakes for James and Letterman to dwell on for too long. Letterman asked the three-time NBA MVP how winning a championship changes things.

 

"I went from being ringless on Wednesday night to, you know, having a ring on Thursday night," James said. "So it changed that."

 

Later, Letterman told James that "nobody loves a winner more than basketball fans, and you certainly are the big winner." James replied, "I appreciate that."

 

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are in the midst of a media tour in New York. Bosh appeared on "Live! With Kelly" on Tuesday and Wade sat down for NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." On Wednesday, all three are scheduled on ABC's "The View." Oprah Winfrey also taped an interview with the Heat trio in Miami on Monday, and that is scheduled to air on her network Sunday night.

 

Letterman also spent time talking about the upcoming London Olympics with James, who also played for the U.S. team at the Athens Games in 2004 and the Beijing Games in 2008.

 

James told Letterman that he expects Argentina, Spain and France to be good challenges for the Americans in London.

 

"Team USA, we try to go out there and showcase our talent at the highest level and represent our country the right way," James said. "So, you know, we always look forward to bringing home the gold."

 

As the interview was ending, Letterman took the championship trophy out from behind his desk.

 

"That's my baby right there," James said, giving the trophy a kiss.

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June 21, 2012

By BERNIE WILSON |

Associated Press

 

SAN DIEGO (AP) — LaDainian Tomlinson was in the midst of saying goodbye to the NFL when his young son, Daylen, wandered across the dais and tugged on his pant leg, wanting a little attention.

Tomlinson reached down and lifted him up, holding him as carefully as he used to carry the football.

Joined by his family and several former teammates, Tomlinson ended his brilliant 11-year NFL career the same way he started it — with the San Diego Chargers.

Tomlinson signed a one-day contract with the Chargers on Monday and then announced his retirement.

“It wasn’t because I didn’t want to play anymore. It was simply time to move on,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson rushed for 13,684 yards, fifth all-time, and scored 162 touchdowns, third-most ever. His 145 rushing touchdowns are second-most in history. He also passed for seven touchdowns.

Just as importantly, he helped the Chargers dig out from one of their worst stretches to become a force in the AFC West. He played his first nine seasons with San Diego and the last two years with the New York Jets.

Tomlinson, who turns 33 on Saturday, said he knew at the end of last season that he’d probably retire. He said he was still physically capable of playing but mentioned the mental toll it takes to play at a high level.

Tomlinson didn’t shed any tears, as he did two years ago after being released by the Chargers.

L.T. recalled the news conference in 2006 when former teammate Junior Seau announced his first retirement.

“He said, ‘I’m graduating today.’ I’ve been playing football 20-some years and so at some point it almost seems like school every year where you sacrifice so much and there is so much you put on the line, mentally and physically, with your body, everything,” Tomlinson said. “So today, I take the words of Junior Seau: I feel like I’m graduating. I really do, because I’ve got my life ahead of me, I’m healthy, I’m happy with a great family and I’m excited to now be a fan and watch you guys play.”

Seau, who committed suicide on May 2, came out of retirement a few times to play for the New England Patriots.

Tomlinson said this is it for him.

Tomlinson said he has special memories even though the Chargers never got to the Super Bowl during his time with them.

His most memorable moment with San Diego came on Dec. 10, 2006, when he swept into the end zone late in a game against the Denver Broncos for his third touchdown of the afternoon to break Shaun Alexander’s year-old record of 28 touchdowns.

His linemen hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried him toward the sideline, with Tomlinson holding the ball high in his right hand and waving his left index finger, while the fans chanted “L.T.! L.T.!” and “MVP! MVP!”

Tomlinson was voted NFL MVP that season, when he set league single-season records with 31 touchdowns, including 28 rushing, and 186 points.

“Those were championship days, for not only myself and my teammates, but my family as well,” said Tomlinson, who won two NFL rushing titles. “So I’m OK with never winning a Super Bowl championship. I know we’ve got many memories that we can call championship days.”

Tomlinson was joined on the dais by wife LaTorsha, mother Loreane, son Daylen, who turns 2 next month, and 9-month-old daughter Dayah.

Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates were among the several former teammates in the crowd, as were offensive linemen Nick Hardwick, Jeromey Clary and recently retired Kris Dielman. Also in attendance was Ryan Mathews, who replaced Tomlinson as the Chargers' featured back in 2010.

Tomlinson said of his offensive linemen, “They were my best friends.”

Dielman retired in March due to a concussion.

“I was a part of greatness,” Dielman said of Tomlinson’s career. “And it was awesome to be a part of it. It was awesome to watch. I mean, I had the best seat in the house. It was a fun time.”

Rivers became the Chargers’ starter in 2006 after Drew Brees was allowed to leave as a free agent.

“He carried us,” Rivers said of Tomlinson. “He had such a calming effect on the huddle, on myself. When things weren’t going good, we could always hand it to him. When I was struggling a bit during the first half of that season, it was never, ‘C’mon, you’ve got to get it together.’ It was just like, ‘You’re good, keep going.’ I tend to get excited but the game was slow for him. That part was certainly appreciated as a young player.”

Team President Dean Spanos said few players have had a bigger role or meant more to the team and the city than Tomlinson.

Spanos recalled being told by then-general manager John Butler on the day before the 2001 draft that the Chargers had traded the No. 1 overall pick to Atlanta for a package that included the No. 5 overall pick.

“I said, ‘Great,’ and then asked him who he liked with the fifth pick. I clearly remember him telling me, ‘Well, there’s this great running back from TCU who could help us.’

“It’s funny now, but I also remember asking him, ‘Is he any good?’ And I remember that John said, ‘Yeah, he’s going to be something special.’ I wish John was here today so I could thank him for making what has probably become the most significant trade in the history of the San Diego Chargers.”

Butler died in 2003.

Spanos said no other Chargers player will wear Tomlinson’s No. 21, and that a retirement ceremony will be held sometime in the future.

Tomlinson and Spanos both signed the ceremonial one-day contract.

“I didn’t even check how much it was for. It was worth it,” Spanos quipped.

“People and players like LaDainian Tomlinson don’t come around very often, if at all,” Jets chairman and CEO Woody Johnson said in a statement. “His humility and work ethic made it clear why he will be remembered as one of the game’s best players. Without question, his next stop will be the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum said Tomlinson “never took one day for granted when it came to any aspect of his performance. His commitment drew his teammates to him and elevated everyone that came in contact with him.”

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