September 04, 2014

 

By SCHUYLER DIXON

Associated Press

  

Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent is being allowed to return to the NFL, though he won't play right away.

 

The NFL on Tuesday September 2 outlined a series of conditions Brent must meet to be eligible to play when the Cowboys return from their bye week in November.

 

Brent retired last year and was sentenced to 180 days in jail after a trial in January in the intoxication manslaughter death of teammate Jerry Brown, a practice squad linebacker for the Cowboys. A 10-year prison sentence was suspended.

 

The league says Brent will be suspended for the first 10 games of the season and can’t participate in team activities for the first six weeks. He won’t be allowed to visit the team’s practice facility for the first six weeks except to meet with people associated with his rehab.

 

The 26-year-old Brent must have “no further adverse involvement with law enforcement” and faces potential banishment for what the league called “prohibited alcohol-related conduct.”

 

Brent’s agent, Peter Schaffer, said an appeal of the suspension was planned.

 

Brent can start attending meetings and doing individual workouts in Week 7, but can’t practice or travel with the team. He can begin practicing two weeks after that.

 

If he meets all the conditions, Brent’s first possible game is Nov. 23 at the New York Giants.

 

Brent crashed his Mercedes sedan on a suburban Dallas highway on the way back from a nightclub in December 2012. Brown was in the passenger’s seat. Witnesses recalled seeing Brent trying to pull Brown, his former teammate at Illinois and his roommate in Texas, from the wreckage of the vehicle.

 

Tests later showed Brent to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit for drivers in Texas.

 

Brent faced up to 20 years in prison for intoxication manslaughter, and prosecutors pressed hard for prison time, saying his case would send a message to other would-be drunken drivers. But Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson, testified she had forgiven Brent and that “you can’t go on in life holding a grudge.”

 

The Cowboys open the season Sunday at home against San Francisco with many questions about their defense, including the rotation among defensive linemen. They are trying to replace franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware, who was released during the offseason in a salary cap move.

 

Brent was mostly a backup in three seasons with Dallas, but was starting in place of the injured Jay Ratliff at the time of the crash.

 

The Cowboys took a step toward replacing Ware by moving up to get defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round of this year’s draft, but the rookie will start on the season on short-term injured reserve with a broken right foot.

 

Lawrence can’t start practicing until after the sixth game and can’t play until Week 9 against Arizona on Nov. 2. Dallas filled Lawrence’s spot by signing defensive end Jack Crawford, cut by Oakland last week, to the active roster.

 

Offensive tackle John Wetzel and defensive back Jemea Thomas were added to the practice squad.

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August 28, 2014

 

Associated Press

  

Doc Rivers is staying with the Los Angeles Clippers for another five years.

 

In Steve Ballmer’s first big move since taking over as the new owner, he gave Rivers a contract extension through the 2018-19 season.

 

Ballmer said Wednesday it was one of his top priorities to ensure that Rivers remains as the long-term leader of the team. Rivers was a stabilizing force for the franchise during the upheaval created by former owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks that led to his ouster after 33 years of ownership.

 

“Not only is Doc one of the best coaches and executives in the game, but he continually embodies the hardcore, committed and resilient character and winning culture that the Clippers represent,” Ballmer said, repeating the “hardcore” theme he uttered during last week's fan rally.

 

Interim CEO Dick Parsons testified during Sterling’s court battle with his estranged wife to keep the team, saying Rivers would quit if Sterling was successful.

 

“I didn’t think I was going to have to, honestly,” Rivers said last week. “But I think a lot of us would have been willing to, for sure.”

 

Now, Rivers can settle in knowing he has a new owner who is passionate about the game and eager to support the team.

 

“With Steve’s leadership, we have this opportunity to be this great organization,” Rivers said last week. “That’s probably what makes me the most excited because I know if you get that part right, the basketball part will become easier in some ways, and that’s good.”

 

Rivers joined the team in June 2013 and added president of basketball operations to his responsibilities two months ago.

 

The 52-year-old coach guided the Clippers to the best record in franchise history at 57-25 and a second straight Pacific Division title last season. They lost to Oklahoma City in the second round of the playoffs.

 

Rivers has a career regular-season record of 644-498 and a 70-64 playoff mark, with previous head coaching stints in Boston, where he won the 2008 NBA title, and Orlando.

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August 14, 2014

 

Associated Press

 

Steve Ballmer officially became the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday August 12.

 

The team said the sale closed after a California court confirmed the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the franchise to the former Microsoft CEO. Her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, had unsuccessfully fought the sale of the team he owned since 1981 in court.

 

The NBA Board of Governors had previously approved the $2 billion sale.

 

“I am humbled and honored to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers,” Ballmer said in a statement. “Clipper fans are so amazing. They have remained fiercely loyal to our franchise through some extraordinary times.”

 

Adam Streisand, Ballmer’s attorney, said Tuesday that Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas signed the order authorizing the sale even if Donald Sterling’s attorneys filed an appeal.

 

“We were ready,” Streisand said. “Within minutes, the deal was signed, sealed and delivered.”

 

He said even if Donald Sterling seeks an emergency order directing the judge to vacate his order, the attorney is confident an appellate court would agree that Levanas made the correct decision.

 

Donald Sterling’s attorneys weren't immediately available to comment.

 

The transaction ends Donald Sterling’s run as the longest-tenured owner in the NBA after 33 years. After buying the Clippers in 1981, he moved the franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles three years later.

 

The 80-year-old real estate mogul has been in probate court fighting his wife’s proposed deal to sell. At issue was whether Donald Sterling killed the deal by revoking the trust after his wife removed him as a trustee. Shelly Sterling acted after doctors found Donald had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

The drama began in April when a recording surfaced of Donald Sterling dressing down his young girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games. The audio spurred the NBA to ban Sterling for life and fine him $2.5 million.

 

His wife of 58 years then took control of a family trust and negotiated a record $2 billion sale of the team to Ballmer. Shelly Sterling said she was initially given her husband’s blessing to sell the team and he praised the deal she reached.

 

When it came time to sign it at the end of May, however, Sterling said he would not sell and would sue the league.

 

Ballmer said he will be “hardcore” in giving the team, coach Doc Rivers, the staff and players the support they need.

 

Rivers called it “an amazing new day in Clippers history,” and said he’s inspired by Ballmer's passion for the game.

 

Ballmer, Rivers and Clippers players will attend a new fan festival announced for next Monday at Staples Center.

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August 21, 2014

 

Associated Press

  

 

There’s something stunning happening on Michael Vick’s head.

 

You can’t see them from far away, but up close, tiny gray hairs are starting to emerge — color-sapped reminders that the New York Jets quarterback is no longer the speedy youngster fresh out of Virginia Tech.

 

He turned 34 in June, making him “old” in today’s NFL. During minicamp in June, Vick even had a young fullback address him as “sir” in the huddle.

 

“That baffled me a little bit,” Vick said at the time with a chuckle. “I’m not that old and I have to reiterate that over and over again.”

 

But in the time-warped world of professional sports, anything past 30 opens conversations about players being past their prime. If you get to 35, well, then the geriatric jokes start flying.

 

Rocking chairs and walking canes. “Grandpa” and “Graybeard.”

 

“I think so much of it’s a mindset,” said 35-year-old Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “If I tell myself I am 25, I’m 25 and that’s honest to God. That’s my mindset. I can play for another 10 years. That would be my goal, but I’m taking it one year at a time. There’s no reason why I couldn't do that.”

 

He would be a rarity in the NFL, where the average age ranges between 25 and 27. The lifespan of most careers in the league lasts somewhere between 3 1/2 and almost seven years, meaning retirement comes at an age when people in most other professional fields are just getting started.

 

For several players, though, age is an opponent to defy.

 

The Colts’ 41-year-old Adam Vinatieri is the NFL’s oldest active player. While he might not have the leg he did while leading the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles and another with Indianapolis as “Automatic Adam,” he’s still one of the league’s most reliable kickers.

 

“As long as my body’s feeling healthy, I can’t see why I can’t continue to play,” Vinatieri said when he re-signed with the Colts for two years in March.

 

It's likely no one will ever get close to George Blanda, who was still kicking at 48 for the Raiders in 1975. But there are plenty of other kickers and punters who are nearly right there with Vinatieri.

 

San Francisco’s Phil Dawson (39), Atlanta’s Matt Bryant (39), Arizona’s Jay Feely (38), Buffalo’s Brian Moorman (38), Houston’s Shane Lechler (37) and Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski (36) are among those booting away Father Time.

 

There are plenty of other big-time stars at the so-called “skill” positions who are also still thriving. Just look at Denver’s Peyton Manning (38) and New England’s Tom Brady (37), who are still setting passing records, along with Brees, nearly every season.

 

“Peyton Manning was what, 37 years old last year and arguably (had) his best year in his career,” Brees said. “Brett Favre arguably had his best year of his career when he was 40. There have been perfect examples of the near history that prove that you can continue to play at a very, very high level. I think there are lots of things that go into that.”

 

Preparation, training, strict diets and consistent sleep habits are among them.

 

“I look forward to driving over here every day,” Manning said. “I think as soon as you go, ‘Golly, I do not want to go over there today,’ that’s when you’ve got to get out.”

 

Even at positions that require top-notch speed, some veterans are competing with the youngsters. Washington’s Santana Moss is 35 and still a valuable part of the Redskins’ offense.

 

“I still can play,” said Moss, entering his 14th NFL season. “I told myself I’m not going to count myself out. I’m going to go as long as I can go. I didn’t have this dream as a kid to say, ‘OK, one day I’m going to put it up.’ I’m going to go until I can’t go no more.”

 

Baltimore wide receiver Steve Smith knows the feeling. He’s also 35 and feels rejuvenated after spending his first 13 seasons in Carolina.

 

Some defensive backs, such as Charles Woodson (37), Champ Bailey (36), Terrence Newman (35), Adrian Wilson (34), Ike Taylor (34) and Ryan Clark (34) could all be going up against some players 12-15 years younger than them this season.

 

When you last as long as a guy such as Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, who’s 33 and in his 12th season, coaches come and go, and so do teammates. It’s a strange experience, especially when you’re the only one still there.

 

“There’s new guys coming in filling up those numbers and those lockers,” Briggs said. “That’s life. That’s the way it is. It’s business.”

 

Experience, though, is important to helping a winning franchise. Woodson says it only takes looking at the NBA’s champion San Antonio Spurs to know that veteran leadership is key, along with strong play.

 

“I look at the NFL, every team wants to get younger,” said Woodson, entering his 17th season. “They push a lot of the older guys out, guys who can still play the game. I don’t think there’s any question that it’s undervalued. ... Our best days are not behind us just because other people say our best days are behind us.

 

“We’re going out there to play good football and win games, and that's what we intend to do.”

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August 07, 2014

Associated Press

  

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ray Rice stepped to the microphone, took a deep breath and spoke for 17 minutes about what he called “the biggest mistake of his life.”

 

His arrest for domestic violence against his then-fiancee last February is something Rice figures will haunt him long after NFL career has ended.

 

The Baltimore Ravens running back was arrested on assault charges following a Feb. 15 altercation in New Jersey in which he allegedly struck Janay Palmer. Rice has been accepted into a diversion program, which upon completion could lead to the charges being dropped.

 

“My actions that night were totally inexcusable,” said Rice, who during Ravens training camp last week spoke publicly for the first time since receiving a two-game suspension from the NFL.

 

“My daughter is 2 years old now. One day she’s going to know the power of Google. Me having to explain that to her, what happened that night, that’s something I have to live with the rest of my life.”

 

Rice was referring to a grainy video in which he is shown dragging Palmer, now his wife, from an elevator at an Atlantic City casino. He did not address the incident at an impromptu news conference in May, and although he refused to divulge details on Thursday, he dismissed the notion that he was provoked.

 

“I don’t want to keep re-living the incident. I’m trying to move forward,” he said. “What happened that night was a huge mistake, and that’s what I’ll keep it at. I don’t condone any of my behavior. I take full responsibility for my actions. My wife can do no wrong.”

 

Rice wore a Ravens polo shirt and a pained expression throughout the session. More than a dozen TV cameras were in place, some telecasting the interview live, and several of his teammates stood behind the throng to show their support.

 

Rice, 27, is the team’s career leader in total scrimmage yards and ranks behind only Jamal Lewis in total yards rushing. But this press conference wasn’t about football.

 

This was about apologizing for actions that he insisted were one of a kind.

 

“It was the first time it ever happened,” he said. “I’ve never had a problem with domestic abuse. This was a one-time incident.”

 

In addition to the two-game suspension, Rice was fined three paychecks totaling more than $500,000. There have been reports that the fine was too light. Rice declined to weigh in on that subject except to say that he would have accepted whatever penalty the NFL deemed fit.

 

“No football games and no money was going to determine what I have to live with the rest of my life. That punishment I received from the NFL, it hurts that I can’t play football,” he said. “I never planned to appeal any kind of punishment. So whether it was two games, four games, six games, eight games, I was going to own my actions and be a man about it and take whatever was given to me.”

 

Rice’s reputation has likely taken a harder hit than he has ever absorbed on the field.

 

“In some people’s eyes, Ray can do no wrong. That’s something I take pride in,” he said. “I know a lot of people out there have lost respect, maybe not like me anymore. But that’s my fault. I have to own that. That’s my battle each day.”

 

Rice also pleaded with his fans to make smart decisions.

 

“I still have kids out there wearing 27 jerseys, and I just want to tell them that please don't make the mistake I did,” he said. “I always talk about one or two bad decisions and your dream can become a nightmare, and I was truly living a nightmare.”

 

Rice’s teammates still support him.

 

“I’ve known Ray for a while. He’s a great guy,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We’re all human, we all make mistakes.”

 

Rice realizes how many people were hurt by his actions.

 

“That’s not who I am as a man. That’s not who my mom raised me to be,” he said. “I let her down, I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down, and I got my teammates here to support me, I let my teammates down. I let so many people down because of 30 seconds of my life that I know I can’t take back.”

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