June 13, 2013

(AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the Washington Redskins nickname is a “unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

Goodell was responding to a letter from 10 members of Congress who want the name changed because it is offensive to many Native Americans.

He cited the nickname's origins and polls that support its popularity. Goodell wrote that he understands the feelings surrounding it are complex and could change, but he also point out fan pride in the team’s heritage.

The name is the subject of a legal challenge from a group seeking to have the team lose its trademark protection.

Team owner Dan Snyder has vowed to never change the name. Teton High School in Driggs, Idaho, this week became the latest high school to drop the name. 

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June 06, 2013

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Former Auburn point guard Varez Ward has been arrested for allegedly trying to fix games and offering money to teammates to help during the 2011-12 season.

U.S. Attorney George Beck Jr. said that Ward was arrested Monday on counts of bribery relating to a sports contest and conspiracy for allegedly trying to fix the point spread for the Tigers’ game against Arkansas on Jan. 25, 2012.

A federal grand jury indictment last week of Ward was unsealed Tuesday. The one-page document did not list alleged co-conspirators but said the scheme continued after that game. Beck said Ward offered to pay teammates to participate in the point-shaving scheme, which was investigated by the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service.

No attorney for Ward was included in the filing, and the number at the address listed for the player was disconnected. Clark Morris, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said Ward was released Tuesday on $2,500 unsecured bond and had his arraignment set for Thursday in Montgomery.

Ward came off the bench in the 56-53 loss to Arkansas but crumpled to the floor after playing only 19 seconds with an apparent leg injury.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee later said Ward took a knee to the right leg he had injured early in his sophomore season with Texas, when he ruptured his quadriceps tendon on a dunk during pregame warm-ups. Auburn still covered the 9 1/2-point spread, but prosecutors said “Ward’s scheme was to make sure that Auburn ultimately lost the basketball game.”

Ward could face up to five years in prison if convicted and be fined as much as $250,000.

“Watching sports should be entertaining,” said Beck, who praised Auburn for its cooperation. “We want the outcome of the game to be based on talent and hard work, not some off-field, back-room deal. Fixing games not only hurts teammates, but hurts the fans and all viewing public.”

Ward was suspended before a Feb. 25, 2012 game, also against Arkansas, and didn’t play for the Tigers again.

He was averaging 9.0 points a game and leading the Tigers in assists.

“It is obviously an extremely serious situation anytime allegations of point shaving are made,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said in a statement. “When this matter was brought to our attention in 2012, Auburn immediately reported what we knew to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC. Since this matter is a pending criminal case, it is not appropriate for us to make any further comments.”

In a 68-50 loss to Alabama on Feb. 7, Ward scored three points and had six turnovers while playing 17 minutes. Vegas Insider said Alabama was favored by five points.

Ward was hot in a three-game stretch in between when he scored 53 points, including 24 against Mississippi State.

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June 06, 2013

By NANCY ARMOUR

AP National Writer

 

For most NFL veterans, minicamps are uneventful, maybe even tedious. It's one more practice in a career filled with hundreds of them.

For Johnny Jolly, however, the first day of the Green Bay Packers minicamp was what he'd imagined for the past three years. Those days he spent in prison and in rehab? It was the hope of stepping back onto the field that helped keep him going.

''It was excellent. It was excellent,'' Jolly said Tuesday, a grin spreading across his face. ''I'm out there laughing and joking with the guys, it just felt like I never left. It was just like, man, this is a relief. Oh my God, I'm back on the field, practicing with the dudes I love to play ball with. It was great.''

The defensive lineman was suspended indefinitely by the NFL before the 2010 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Two years earlier, in April 2008, he'd been arrested outside a club in his hometown of Houston for possession of codeine, a controlled substance. He pleaded guilty and was given probation, with the understanding that another misstep would mean significant jail time.

In October 2010, he was arrested again.

''It was crazy because I knew I needed to chill, but it was like I was getting a thrill out of what I was doing so I was just doing it,'' Jolly said. ''In my heart, I was like, 'I need to chill. I'm a football player and I need to take care of myself the other way.' But sometimes you lose focus. You can't get yourself back on track, so God sits you down and puts you back on track. And that's what happened to me.

''I hate that I had to go through that,'' he added. ''But it was a lesson learned.''

Sentenced to six years for violating his probation, Jolly found himself behind bars. A man whose job only a few months earlier was to play football and work out now had to find ways to stay in shape in the short free time he was allotted. His teammates had been replaced by murderers, thieves and other convicted felons.

''From Day One, they was motivation,'' Jolly said. ''They were like, 'Man, you don't belong here. Get back out of here and go to the field. Get yourself together.' They would come out and work out with me and just be there, (help me) stay focused. (They'd say), 'Don't get in no trouble while you're in here. Just do what you're supposed to do and everything will work out for you.'''

Jolly was released after serving six months, and given 10 years of ''shock probation.'' Last month, he completed a court-ordered drug-rehabilitation program.

All the while, Jolly hoped he'd get another chance to play football.

A sixth-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2006, he'd become an integral part of Green Bay's defensive line. He started all 16 games in 2009 and seemed to be a perfect fit in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme, finishing the year with 24 tackles, one sack and 10 passes defended.

But three years is a long time to be gone from any job, let alone one as physically demanding as pro football. A career of three years is more likely than a hiatus of that length.

''You've got to have faith,'' Jolly said. ''The whole time I had faith that God was going to bring me back to playing football. I didn't know what team - I know where I wanted to be, which was Green Bay.''

Though Jolly knew the coaches and the system in Green Bay, it was the entire Packers organization that he wanted to be a part of again.

While many teams would have given up on a player in his situation, the Packers never did. Fellow defensive tackle Ryan Pickett called Jolly's mother to see how he was doing and keep tabs on him, and B.J. Raji also reached out. Aaron Rodgers was outspoken in his support.

And when Jolly finished his rehab, Packers director of player programs Rob Davis and personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith were there for his graduation.

''It's unexplainable,'' Jolly said of what the support meant. ''For me to be in the situation that I'm in and they're still worried about me while they're working and doing what they're supposed to do, I can't explain it.''

Jolly was reinstated in March. Though he said he never met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he did sit down with Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy.

A conversation to lay all your sins bare may sound uncomfortable but, for Jolly, it was the only way to go.

''I had to lay it on the table and let them know where I was and how I felt,'' he said. ''It's best for me and it's best for them. For me to get it off my chest, and for them to hear me speak and knowing that it's true and coming from my heart. I think that was part of the thing for them signing me back, to know that I'm telling the truth.''

His restructured contract will pay him the veteran minimum of $715,000 if he makes the team. But that is months down the road, McCarthy said.

''The biggest thing for Johnny Jolly is just to be one of the 90. That's really the way I want to go about it,'' he said. ''The football part, I'm not really worried about. I just want to make sure that he gets into a routine. Regularity is important to everybody, especially a professional athlete. We just want to get him back into the regularity, the rhythm and the every-day procedures and get back on the horse and start riding again.''

Jolly is starting on a limited practice plan, though he did take some snaps when the defense went against the offense in team drills Tuesday.

''There's only so much you can tell in helmets, but just the fact that he was fired up and moving around, he certainly looks like he hasn't lost any quickness or strength,'' offensive lineman T.J. Lang said. ''You look at him, and you'd think he'd be just a big, power guy. But he's got a lot of quickness to him, and that's the thing you don't see too often with defensive linemen that big. He's got a lot of skills. I'm sure he's still trying to tone those skills, but he's a guy who, if he gets back to the way he played a couple of years ago, he could be a big impact player for us.''

Most of the teammates Jolly had when he was last in Green Bay are gone, and many of the current Packers don't even know his story.

''It happened so I had to deal with it,'' Jolly said. ''I ain't going to say I was perfect, but I've done everything I was supposed to do the best way I could and God blessed me to be back in this situation.''

Notes: After skipping last week's OTAs, CB Sam Shields was back for minicamp. Shields signed his tender, but is still hoping for a long-term deal. ''That's one of my goals,'' Shields said. ''If I have a great year this year, it'll speak for itself right there.'' ... K Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio were both good from 38, 43 and 50 yards. ... Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen was at practice.

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June 06, 2013

LAWT News Service

 

Las Vegas sports book directors are notoriously tight-lipped about their customers’ wagers, and rightly so. They’re particularly circumspect when it comes to reports of big-money wagers made by celebrities.

So there is no way of telling whether the otherwise innocuous tweet posted on Twitter by @Pregame_Steam that superstar boxer Floyd Mayweather bet more than $5.9 million on the Miami Heat minus-7 to defeat the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 is true.

Yahoo! Sports was unable to reach Mayweather or Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, to verify the report.

Mayweather frequently tweets photos of his betting slips. Usually, but not always, the tweets are of winning tickets. In a fascinating Sept. 12, 2012, story on Grantland. com, writer Dermot Hunt noted that between August 2010 and February 2012, Mayweather tweeted photos of 46 betting slips totaling nearly $3.9 million in wagers. According to Hunt’s record-keeping, May­weather won all 46, making a profit of $3,938,722.87.

If Mayweather did make the bet on the Heat and he won, he'd earn a profit of $6.49 million.

[Related: Here’s one career gamble Floyd Mayweather Jr. should take]

Several persons connected with Las Vegas sports books who did not want their names used said they think it unlikely Mayweather made such a monster wager. Signifi­cantly, though, none of them would completely rule it out as a fabrication.

Lorenzo Fertitta, whose family owns Station Casinos in Las Vegas, wouldn’t totally rule out the large wager.

“That would surprise me [he got down such a big bet in Las Vegas], but you never know,” Fertitta told Yahoo! Sports.

One Las Vegas sports book director, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he doubted Mayweather’s ability to bet that much on one game in the city.

“I don’t [think it’s true],” the bookmaker said of the huge bet. “The only place that gave him sizeable wagers was Cantor [Gaming] and I’ve heard they cut many players way back. I don’t think if he bet that at every book in town he could get that much, and we haven’t taken anything here.”

The beneficiary here, clearly, is Mayweather. He’s worked hard over the last eight years to develop the ‘Money’ persona that has made him rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams. Being associated with making an almost-$6 million bet further enhances that image he's worked so long to build and burnish.

If the Heat win by eight or more points tonight, it would be work checking Mayweather’s Twitter feed to see if he posts a winning ticket.

I’ll choose to be skeptical until there is proof. There were multiple reports in 2008 that Mayweather made $20 million to appear in Wrestlemania, though veteran reporter and industry insider Dave Meltzer said he believes the real payment was less than $3 million.

The point is, Mayweather is masterful at crafting the image of himself as essentially the Warren Buffet or Bill Gates of boxing, but how much of it is true is never easy to discern.

With Mayweather, though, you never know for sure. And that’s why he’s a winner whether the story is true or not. It simply adds to and builds the legend.

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June 06, 2013

By Kenneth Miller

Assistant Managing Editor

 

Greg Pinto, the 48-year old stepson of legendary football player Deacon Jones, says that if the master could have the final say at his funeral; “He would enjoy seeing all of the people, point to the ceiling and say I gave it everything I had.”

The Hall of Fame defensive end credited with terming the word sack for how he knocked down quarterbacks died of natural causes on June 3. He was 74. His wife of more than three decades Elizabeth Jones and stepson Greg Pinto survive him.

Jones was the colorful and outspoken leader of the L.A. Rams Fearsome Foursome unit from 1961-71 and called Jones the “greatest defensive end of modern football,” by his coach George Allen. The Allen family had Jones present George Allen for his Hall of Fame induction in 2002.

His unofficial 159½ sacks for them and 173½ for his career – propelled him to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

A 14th-round draft pick in 1961 out of Mississippi Valley State, Jones was one of the most durable players, missing just five games in his 14 pro seasons.

He once said: “Coming from a poor, inner-city neighborhood myself, I have an intimate knowledge of all of the problems people face there. It's not just the inability to afford a good education that is a problem. Inner-city kids have to be prepared for college in every sense. For instance, kids from Beverly Hills grow up hearing about the stock market and real estate deals over the dinner table. When kids from the ghetto enter college and the workplace, they don't know a thing about what they hear. And they are never told exactly what their commitment to their own neighborhoods must be.”

He established a non-profit organization in his name The Deacon Jones Foundation in Los Angeles in 1997 to assist young people and the communities in which they live with a comprehensive program that includes education, mentoring, corporate internship, and community service.

Pinto told the Sentinel that the foundation was idle for the past year due to the failing health of Jones and is not certain what the future of the organization holds.

In the NFL he was a giver, of tremendous pain as a defensive lineman who is known for inventing the now outlawed head slap he utilized to get to the quarterback.

But, in life he was a generous soul who never forgot where he came from and although not a native here, he fit right in after his playing career was done.

Jones also had several small acting roles both during and after his playing career. He was a guest star on a handful of television shows -- including episodes of “Bewitched,” “The Brady Bunch” and “The Odd Couple” -- and appeared in the 1978 Warren Beatty film “Heaven Can Wait.”

“He was honest and some of his comments were outrageous but also true. He was very confident and thoughtful. I can’t think of a bad memory about him,” said Pinto.

“Deacon Jones was one of the greatest players in NFL history. Off the field, he was a true giant,” said Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, whose father, George, coached Jones with the Los Angeles Rams. “His passion and spirit will continue to inspire those who knew him. He was a cherished member of the Allen family and I will always consider him my big brother.”

“Deacon Jones has been the most inspirational person in my football career,” said former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood.

Jones made the Pro Bowl every year from 1964-70 and played in eight overall. He combined with fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy on a defensive line that at times was unblockable.

Olsen died in March 2010 at age 69 and Lundy died in February 2007 at 71. Grier, who is 80, is the only surviving member of the Fearsome Foursome.

Jones played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1961-1971, as a San Diego Charger from 1972-1973, and finished his career in 1974 as a Washington Redskin.

In the world of football, Deacon is most well known as the man who coined the term ‘sack.’

He was named the “Secretary of Defense” by Los Angeles fans, the “Most Valuable Ram of All Time,” by the Los Angeles Times, and has been recently named as “Defensive End of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. He was unanimously voted to the NFL's 75 Year All Time Team and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

As a personality in both radio and television, Deacon is almost as well known for his humor, candor, charisma, and interesting and knowledgeable assessment of the game. He tells it like it is. Deacon's media and broadcasting credentials are numerous and include a range of venues, from countless television appearances on shows like “Up Close”, ''Hardcore Football”, “Monday Night Live”, and “Pro Magazine”, to being a member of the Los Angeles Rams broadcast team as color analyst and personality on Fox Sports Network's “NFL This Morning.” Football fans love the intimacy and behind-the-scenes insight that Deacon brings to the game. He has appeared on virtually every television and radio sports talk show in both the U.S. and Canada.

Marketing, corporate imaging, and public relations have been Deacon's forte since he left the game. He has worked for companies as diverse as the Miller Brewing Company, Hagar Slacks, Pacific Coast Medical Enterprises, and Epson America, and represented the NFL and Champion Products as spokesman for their Throwback campaigns. He was in constant demand as a motivational speaker at corporate sales meetings and special events.

Deacon was chairman for AstraiZeneca Pharmaceuticals in their national hypertension awareness program, “State of the Heart,” represented the NFL with their licensees and advertisers, and is a favored guest on all television and radio stations.

Deacon's recent trip to Iraq to visit the troops has added another dimension to what he does and where his interests lie. He has agreed to join forces with General Franks in an effort to pay homage and lend support to the families of the military men and women who have been either killed or wounded in action.

Deacon has received numerous awards for community work, in particular, his work with youngsters and youth organizations.

 

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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