Subscribe to National Sports feed
Top Stories
Updated: 1 hour 30 min ago

Finnegan passes big test, helps Royals win Game 3

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 9:52pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Brandon Finnegan passed his biggest test yet.

Only four months after he pitched in the College World Series, the 21-year-old reliever trotted into a troubling seventh inning, got two key outs and helped the Kansas City Royals hold off San Francisco 3-2 Friday night in Game 3 of the World Series.

Finnegan made history with his rapid ascent, and later agreed to donate his cap to the Hall of Fame. All that, and something even more important to the Royals - he was part of giving them a 2-1 edge over the Giants.

"My time came, and luckily I got the job done," Finnegan said. "This is the real deal, y'know?"

His parents knew.

Outside the Kansas City clubhouse, surrounded by a bevy of Royals rooters, Betty and Gary Finnegan tried to absorb what they'd just seen.

"It is a dream ..." she said, some of her makeup washed away by tears. Without a pause, her husband finished the sentence, adding, "... that you don't want to wake up from."

Back in June, Finnegan reached the peak of his baseball career - until that point - when he threw for TCU in the College World Series. But no one could have envisioned what would follow, because no one had ever played in both events in the same year.

"I feel like I'm still in college," Finnegan said. "It's no different. It's still baseball."

Ah, youth.

Finnegan had warmed up in the sixth inning when the Giants scored twice to pull within a run, but didn't get the call.

"We figured he wouldn't pitch after that," his dad said.

Finnegan was back on the bullpen mound in the seventh at a rollicking AT&T Park, warming up when he was summoned into a tense spot to take over for proven reliever Kelvin Herrera: Runner on first, one out, Royals clinging to a one-run lead over the rallying Giants.

"Get a double play and the inning's over," Finnegan said he told himself.

All of Kansas City infielders huddled behind the mound as Finnegan got loose, realizing the most important point of their season was being entrusted to the rookie left-hander.

Right before pinch-hitter Juan Perez stepped up, Finnegan walked to the back of the mound and went the routine he uses to steady himself. He took off his hat, rubbed his hair and looked at the right-field foul pole.

"That's just what I do," he said.

Then it was time for business. Finnegan delivered, retiring Perez on an easy fly. When he fell behind in the count 2-0 to Brandon Crawford, All-Star catcher Salvador Perez went to the mound.

The message: "Be aggressive, not nervous," Perez said.

Finnegan came back to strike out a swinging Crawford on a full count, and started to jog off the mound. He stopped short of the dugout and walked the rest of the way to the bench, where he was congratulated by Herrera and several other Royals.

In the stands near the Kansas City bullpen, about 20 family members and friends whooped it up.

"I'm very proud of him," Royals ace James Shields said. "To be able to keep your composure on this big of a stage the way he's doing, it is very impressive."

"He's pitching well beyond his years. If he keeps that up, he's going to have a really good career," he said.

Small in stature but big in accomplishments, Finnegan already has done that, and a lot more.

"I fulfilled two dreams in one year," he said.

As he spoke, he glanced at the tattoo on his right wrist. His tattoos all refer to family and faith, he said.

There was some concern earlier this month that Finnegan's run of success was winding down. After finishing his minor league season in Double-A, he made his major league debut on Sept. 6 and pitched seven games for the Royals, allowing one run in seven innings.

He threw 2 1-3 effective innings in the AL wild-card win over Oakland, and pitched twice in the AL Division Series against the Angels and got a win. But he struggled in the AL Championship Series against Baltimore, giving up three hits and a walk while getting only one out in two outings.

Manager Ned Yost didn't need Finnegan in the first two games of the World Series. When it got tight in Game 3, it became Finnegan's turn to pitch - and his father's turn to soak in the whole experience.

"I was shaking for three innings," his dad said. "My heart was pounding pretty hard."

Konerko, Rollins 1st co-winners of Clemente Award

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 6:24pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Retiring White Sox star Paul Konerko and Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins were picked Friday as the first co-winners of Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award.

The annual honor is given for contributions on and off the field that best represent the sport and is named for the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer, who died on Dec. 31, 1972, in a plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to assist earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

"Their commitment to making a difference in the lives of children is a wonderful reflection of the legacy the legendary Roberto Clemente has left on our game and in society," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said.

Konerko founded the "Bring Me Home Campaign," which also includes a pair of former teammates in retired great Jim Thome and the Los Angeles Angels' Gordon Beckham. The campaign says it has raised nearly $450,000 to assist foster children in Illinois. A six-time All-Star, Konerko hit .279 with 439 homers and 1,412 RBIs in 18 major league seasons.

"It's really cool that winning it with Jimmy," Konerko said. "I didn't play a whole bunch against with him being in the National League, but our careers are kind of the same arc, same timeline."

Rollins, a three-time All-Star, developed JRoll's Aces in 2007 through The Rollins Family Foundation to provide tickets to children in disadvantaged areas who excel in academics. He also is involved in the reading program J-Roll's Readers and has raised more than $1 million for youth medical research, abuse prevention and food programs.

Rollins' charitable work with arthritis began after his own elbow pain.

"I was working out and it was like, man, this just hurts for no reason, just to bend an elbow it hurts. And I thought what would it be like to be a kid or to be a young adolescent and to have this, not because of work, but because it's a condition," Rollins said. "We put together some events, met up with the Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation and they had a camp.

"I did that for a number of years, and then Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania for two years before ultimately last year making a transition to something I can have or we can have a more direct effect with the community and the area. Something that was larger than what we had been previously doing. I like to eat, personally. I like good food, and I tell my mom, `Don't hold back the good food. I don't care what it costs, let's go get it."'

Konerko's wife, Jennifer, has six siblings who were adopted.

"I think most people get into charitable work a lot of times with what they've experienced close to them or what they've seen," he said. "It was kind of a no-brainer."

This was the first tie for the award, which began in 1971. It was voted on by a group that included Clemente's widow and baseball executives, broadcasters, writers and sponsors.

Ted Bishop out as PGA president

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 5:44pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) Ted Bishop was ousted Friday as president of the PGA of America over a sexist tweet and Facebook post directed at Ian Poulter.

Bishop was irritated by remarks Poulter made in his book on the Ryder Cup captaincy of Nick Faldo in 2008 and Tom Watson this year. He referred to Poulter as "Lil Girl" on Twitter when stacking up Poulter's feats next to Faldo. In a Facebook post, he noted that Watson (with eight majors) and Faldo (with six majors and the Ryder Cup record for most points) were getting "bashed" by Poulter.

"Really? Sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess. C'MON MAN!" he wrote.

The PGA of America board voted Friday to remove him, meaning Bishop will not be invited to future PGA Championships and Ryder Cups, or any other courtesies extended to past presidents. He is the first PGA president to be ousted. Bishop had one month left on his two-year term.

Bishop, who has two daughters, apologized to Poulter and "anyone else I might have offended" in a statement.

But the head pro from Indiana went down swinging.

Bishop said his fellow PGA officers asked him to resign Friday and he refused, wanting instead to apologize in person to the board and let the process run its course.

"The board heard me out and then voted to impeach me," he said. "That is the due process and I respect that, as painful as it might be."

In removing Bishop as president, the PGA of America board said the remarks were inconsistent with association's policies.

"The PGA of America understands the enormous responsibility it has to lead this great game and to enrich lives in our society through golf," PGA chief executive Pete Bevacqua said in a statement. "We must demand of ourselves that we make golf both welcoming and inclusive to all who want to experience it, and everyone at the PGA of America must lead by example."

The PGA of America has 27,000 members, about 1,100 of them women. Bevacqua said in a telephone interview that he received "a lot of negative feedback from all types of sources, internal and external." He declined to specify whether PGA female members were part of that.

Bishop was irritated by comments Poulter made in his book released this week about the Ryder Cup captaincy of Faldo in 2008 and Watson this year at Gleneagles. Bishop was with Faldo at The Greenbrier on Thursday when he tweeted to Poulter, "Faldo's record stands by itself. Six majors and all-time RC points. Yours vs. His? Lil Girl."

The Facebook post was even stronger. Bishop deleted both Thursday evening and said in an email to The Associated Press that "I could have selected some different way to express my thoughts on Poulter's remarks."

Derek Sprague, expected to be voted in as the next president at the Nov. 22 annual meeting, was appointed the interim president. Paul Levy will handle the roles as vice president and secretary until the election.

Bishop has been one of the most outspoken presidents of the PGA of America. But his social media rant got him into trouble.

"This is a classic example of poor use of social media on my part and if I had the chance to hit the delete button on the things that I sent out yesterday, I would without hesitation," Bishop said. "The PGA of America asked me to avoid any interaction with the media in the past 24 hours and that is why I did not issue a formal and public apology, which I have wanted to do since early this morning."

Bishop described the consequences as "drastic," but that he has to live with his mistake.

"Today, all I have left is my PGA membership and that will always mean the world to me," Bishop said. He is president of Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Indiana.

Suzy Whaley, a teaching pro from Connecticut who qualified to play a PGA Tour event in Hartford in 2003, is among three PGA members running for secretary at the Nov. 22 election. If she wins, Whaley would be in line to be PGA president in 2018.

Whaley said she found Bishop's remarks to be "insulting."

"I was extremely disappointed and they were definitely sexist," Whaley said in a telephone interview. "I'm of 100 percent belief that we need to empower young girls." Asked if she complained to the PGA officers, Whaley said, "I didn't have to do that."

"The PGA of America took incredibly swift action and are taking this extremely seriously," Whaley said. "Obviously, it's critical that we are inclusive."

Poulter was on a plane to China when Bishop posted his remarks and wasn't aware of them until he landed and found his phone filled with messages.

"Is being called a `lil girl' meant to be derogatory or a put down?" Poulter said in a statement. "That's pretty shocking and disappointing, especially coming from the leader of the PGA of America."

Bishop's boldest move as president was to pick Watson as the U.S. captain, saying he was tired of the Americans losing. But the move backfired when Watson's heavy-handed style didn't mesh with a younger generation. Watson, 65, was the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history.

Poulter in his book said that Watson's decision-making "completely baffles me." He was referring to benching Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for both sessions Saturday. He also was critical of Faldo for his commentary on Golf Channel during the Ryder Cup that Sergio Garcia was "useless" in 2008. Faldo was captain of the only European team to lose in the last 15 years, and Poulter wrote, "So who's useless? I think Faldo might need to have a little look in the mirror."

Davis Love III described Bishop as a friend and a "great supporter of golf" and said he would not remember his presidency for this incident. Among other things, the PGA joined up with the LPGA Tour to help pay for its oldest major. The Women's PGA Championship will be sponsored by KPMG, which will use the week to host a major conference for women executives.

"I have said things in my passion for the Ryder Cup that I wish came out differently," Love said. "We all make mistakes on social media."

Attorney: NFL, Ravens not helping union Rice probe

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 4:08pm

The attorney leading the NFL players' union investigation into the Ray Rice domestic violence case told The Associated Press the league and the Baltimore Ravens have not been cooperating.

Richard Craig Smith told the AP on Friday night that the NFL has not provided documents and witnesses requested by the NFLPA's investigators, while the Ravens have refused any cooperation with similar requests.

"I am interested in the facts, and if we get cooperation from all the parties that were involved, we will have an understanding of what happened," Smith said. "We cannot accept public statements that call for transparency, candor and openness and then not allow the investigators to do their jobs."

The union's investigation, like a similar probe organized by the NFL, isn't a law enforcement inquiry and the parties involved aren't under any legal obligation to comply with requests. The league and the union, however, have each said separately that they wanted answers in the case.

A spokesman for the NFL couldn't comment immediately when reached Friday night while a spokesman for the Ravens didn't immediately return a phone message.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely Sept. 8 for violating the league's personal conduct policy, once video of Rice hitting his then-fiancee was released publicly.

The players' union hired Smith, a former federal prosecutor, one month ago to oversee its investigation into how the Ravens and the league handled themselves during the events that led to the suspension, as well as how the team handled issues like due process. Separately, the NFL hired former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III to conduct a probe into how the league handled evidence as it investigated the claims against Rice. NFL owners plan to make the findings of Mueller's report public.

Smith said the union's investigation is important to ensuring the process was fair, and that requires transparency.

"If the NFL is genuinely concerned about fixing the issues that led to an admitted mistake, then they should be honest and forthright about what they knew and when they knew it," Smith said. "We want both our team and Bob Mueller's team each to be able to conduct a thorough review of all the relevant facts."

Smith, the head of regulatory and governmental investigation for the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, represented the union during the Saints bounty scandal that resulted in four players being reinstated from suspension through an appeal in 2012.

Goodell originally suspended Rice for two games. Once the video became public, the Ravens cut Rice, and the league banned him indefinitely. The league considered the video to be new evidence, giving Goodell the authority to further suspend Rice.

The players' union appealed Rice's suspension, saying he should not be punished twice. Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones was selected by the commissioner and the players' union to hear the appeal. A person familiar with the case told the AP that Judge Jones told Goodell on Wednesday that he should testify at the hearing, which will be held Nov. 5-6.

The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because details haven't been made public, said Adolpho Birch, the NFL's vice president for labor policy, league attorney Kevin Manara and security chief Jeffery Miller also are expected to testify along with Ravens President Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome. Rice plans to testify and his wife, Janay, might testify, the person said.

---

AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

Union questions NFL's domestic violence plan

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 3:28pm

NEW YORK (AP) The players' union has questioned why the NFL's domestic violence training and education program "treats all players as perpetrators."

In a memo sent to NFL Players Association members on Thursday by Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and obtained Friday by The Associated Press, the union also said the plan "doesn't build a positive consensus to warning signs."

Smith and union special counsel Teri Patterson described two meetings this month with the league in which an NFLPA commission was briefed on the league's approach to educating players, coaches, executives, owners and NFL personnel about domestic violence. He wrote that a "good overview of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse" was presented. But "it did not address larger issues of violence in and outside of the home."

The NFL said of the "perpetrators" claim: "Nothing could be further from the truth. The presentation expressly recognizes that people in the NFL are often falsely portrayed and that the actions of a few damage the reputations of many."

"What the program teaches is that everyone can and should be part of the solution," the league statement said.

The union memo also said the "NFL's presentation doesn't focus on follow-ups and providing continuous resources at the clubs to address potentially violent situations as well as preventing them."

The NFL's educational program was shown to the AP on Oct. 7, and it included information from a memo sent to the 32 clubs on Sept. 18 that pointed out local resources available to all team personnel and their families. That document indicated a plan was in place to provide those resources and follow-ups for those who need it.

The union memo to the players also said the NFL presentation "doesn't include any psychological information about the type of behavior that could lead to acts of violence or warning signs of negative behavior, but instead seemed to focus almost entirely on what happens after a violent incident has been committed."

The league's plan calls for experts who work in the psychological space to offer a research perspective of societal issues, recognizing that these are intimate crimes that impact people in many ways. The program calls for each club to have such experts available to the teams, or what the NFL calls "the entire club family."

That can include a clinician, human resource workers, player engagement executives, security personnel and a mental health professional who works with the club.

The union added that although the league indicated that the trainers for this educational program will be experts, the NFL did not list any specific names, titles or relevant backgrounds of the people they intend to utilize for the training.

Previously, the NFL announced an advisory group that includes authorities in the domestic violence area such as Tony Porter, Beth E. Richie, Rita Smith, Jane Randel and Lisa Friel.

Another NFLPA observation was: "Too much reliance was placed on using former players to participate in the training. While some former players possess the right qualifications and experience to train personnel on these issues, the league's inability to articulate who these players are raises concerns that call into question the effectiveness of the training."

Many of the player ambassadors, as the NFL calls them, have personal testimonies around these issues and might be helpful, but they would not deliver the education program.

The union added: "The league stated that at each presentation, they will distribute information on suggested local (team city/state specific) resources for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention specialists, licensed club mental health clinicians, club human resource directors and Directors of Player Engagement. The NFLPA commission members recommended that a broader net of resources be included, such as faith-based counselors and male-focused community organizations, etc. The NFL did not provide any explanation as to why one resource was chosen over another or how those resources would be specifically integrated into the workplace, if at all."

In response to the union memo, the NFL said: "We were pleased to meet with the union and are working to incorporate their suggestions into the presentations to clubs. As we emphasized to the union, this first set of presentations is the start of a process of education that will continue in future years."

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Vargas to take on Vogelsong in Game 4 of Series

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 2:58pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Even though Jason Vargas will be making his World Series debut for Kansas City in Game 4, the Fall Classic atmosphere in San Francisco will not be foreign to him.

Four years ago, while home for the offseason in Arizona, Vargas and his wife decided to fly to San Francisco to watch Game 1 of the 2010 World Series between the Giants and Texas Rangers.

The Giants won 11-7 on the way to their first World Series title in San Francisco. They followed with another championship in 2012 and are back in for a third time in five years against the Royals this season.

"It was just an electric atmosphere," Vargas recalled before Game 3 on Friday. "They were ready to go. The fans are here and they want to see their team win, and we're hoping to stop that."

Vargas will have a big part in that goal when he starts Saturday night against Ryan Vogelsong.

Vogelsong has experience on this big stage, getting the win in Game 3 against Detroit two years ago when he pitched 5 2-3 innings in a 2-0 victory that helped send San Francisco to a sweep.

Vogelsong is the only pitcher to yield no more than one run in his first five postseason starts. That run ended in the NL Championship Series when Vogelsong allowed four runs in three innings of a no-decision against St. Louis.

But Vogelsong has proven he has no problems dealing with the heightened intensity in October.

"The biggest thing is just the experience of curbing the emotions," he said. "It's definitely a situation where you have to be locked into the game and your thoughts need to be on the game, but you have to take a quick second to look around and take it all in."

Vogelsong's postseason success is partly attributable to an increase in velocity in those games, with his fastball going from the low 90 mph range to about 95 mph.

"It's definitely a different adrenaline when you're in this stadium in a postseason game," he said. "It's different than an everyday regular-season game."

Vargas has pitched well in his first two postseason starts, allowing two runs in six innings of a no-decision in the division series opener against the Angels and getting the win when he allowed one run of 5 1-3 innings of the ALCS clincher against Baltimore.

Vargas had seven days off before his first postseason start, 12 before the second and nine before the Game 4 of the Series. He has used the time wisely, with the extra bullpen and side sessions helping to smooth out some mechanical issues that contributed to him going 1-5 with a 5.89 ERA in his final seven starts of the regular season.

"He's had two great starts," manager Ned Yost said. "He was a guy that was consistent for us all year. Struggled a little bit his last three or four starts in September, but, again, a lot of that was mechanical, and he's made the adjustment. Had a great start against Anaheim. Had a great start against Baltimore, and we look for him to do the same tomorrow."

Bruins lose Chara for 4-6 weeks with knee injury

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 12:35pm

BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins will spend the next four to six weeks trying to fill the hole left by an injury to the tallest player in NHL history.

Defenseman Zdeno Chara tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee but will not need surgery, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said. The team called up two minor-league defensemen on Friday to replace the 6-foot-9 Slovakian who was the 2009 Norris Trophy winner and plays more minutes than any other Bruins skater.

"It's obviously a blow. He's one of the premier defensemen in the league," Chiarelli said. "But I'd rather have it four to six weeks than four to six months."

Chara left Thursday night's game against the Islanders in the first period, one shift after a collision with New York forward John Tavares. He did not appear injured at the time, but his teammates knew it was serious when one of the toughest players on the team left the bench.

"When he's out, he's out," goalie Tuukka Rask said after Friday's practice. "He's played through a lot of stuff."

A third-round pick of the Islanders in 1996, Chara came to Boston as a free agent a decade later after establishing himself as one of the NHL's best players. As the Bruins' No. 1 defensemen, he uses his long reach to stop opposing attacks - usually matched up against the other team's top forward.

Chara led the Bruins to the NHL title in 2011 - with Chara, as the team's captain, receiving the Stanley Cup - and back to the finals two years later. Last season, the team won the Presidents' Trophy for the most regular-season points before losing in the second round to the Montreal Canadiens.

"He's just such a dominant player," fellow defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "He's a real treat to have on your team. You get spoiled on the ice, and you don't really appreciate it until he's gone."

Already without defenseman Kevan Miller, the Bruins lost 3-2 on Thursday night to fall below .500 for the season and into a four-way tie for fifth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference. But coach Claude Julien pointed to the third period of the game, in which the Bruins dominated New York, as proof that the team can manage without Chara.

"If we've become that bad of a team because of one player, we weren't that good of a team," he said Friday. "I'd like to think we're better than that."

The team recalled defensemen Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman from Providence of the American Hockey League on Friday. Morrow has one goal and one assists in five AHL games this season. Trotman played two games in Boston last season and has one assist with Providence this year.

"It will take everyone to fill that void," forward Chris Kelly said. "It's not just the defense that needs to defend. It's five men working together in all three zones."

Steve Nash ruled out for season with back injury

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 9:46pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) Steve Nash hoped for one more chance to show off his playmaking skills after fighting injuries and time for two miserable years with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Instead, Nash couldn't even make it to opening night in the 19th season of his remarkable career.

Nash will miss the entire season because of a back injury, the Lakers announced Thursday, putting the two-time NBA MVP point guard's career in doubt.

The Lakers and the 40-year-old Nash announced their joint decision less than a week before the start of the regular season. He played in only 15 games last season with nerve root irritation, but hoped for a comeback season after several months of rehabilitation.

The Canadian star played in just three preseason games, feeling more back pain in the second outing. He then strained his back while carrying travel bags several days ago.

"Being on the court this season has been my top priority, and it is disappointing to not be able to do that right now," Nash said. "I work very hard to stay healthy, and unfortunately my recent setback makes performing at full capacity difficult. I will continue to support my team during this period of rest, and will focus on my long-term health."

Nash will "focus on rest and rehabilitation," according to the team's news release. He is in the final season of his three-year contract with the Lakers, but the club's announcement made no mention of possible retirement.

Nash has played in only 65 games since the Lakers traded four draft picks for him in 2012 in a spectacularly failed attempt to assemble a title contender built around Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Nash.

Bryant, who missed all but six games last season with two major injuries, has played in the same backcourt with Nash for just 48 games.

"As disappointed as we are for ourselves and our fans, we're even more disappointed for Steve," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "We know how hard he's worked the last two years to try to get his body right for the rigors of the NBA, and how badly he wants to play, but unfortunately he simply hasn't been able to get there up to this point in time. Steve has been a consummate professional, and we greatly appreciate his efforts."

Nash, the NBA's oldest active player, is due more than $9 million this season. His salary counts toward the Lakers' cap.

If Nash's career ends with his latest injury, it likely won't dull the impact of the greatest player in Canadian history and one of the most complete offensive guards of his generation.

He is third on the NBA's career assists list, trailing only John Stockton and Jason Kidd. Nash also is the most accurate free-throw shooter in NBA history, barely edging Mark Price's career mark at 90.4 percent.

During training camp, Nash said he realized the upcoming season likely would be his last. Yet he refused to call it a farewell tour, holding out hope of playing beyond this season if his back held up under the pounding of a full NBA schedule.

"Sorry to hear the news my man," injured Lakers teammate Nick Young tweeted at Nash.

The British Columbia product starred at Santa Clara before starting his NBA career with the Phoenix Suns, who traded him to Dallas in 1998. He established himself as an elite point guard while playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley with the Mavericks, but returned to Phoenix in 2004 for a lucrative free-agent deal.

Nash won two unlikely MVP awards in 2005 and 2006 as the catalyst for one of the most prolific offenses in NBA history under coach Mike D'Antoni. His playmaking and scoring abilities earned him worldwide recognition and eight All-Star game selections, including his final season with Phoenix in 2011-12.

Nash agreed to join the Lakers for the chance to play for a title living relatively near to his ex-wife and three children. Despite several health struggles late in his career with the Suns, Los Angeles gave him a three-year deal and mortgaged its future by shipping out draft choices.

But Nash's tenure in Hollywood has been mostly miserable from his second game, when he broke a bone in his left leg and missed the next 24 games.

He also struggled with injuries to his hamstrings and back before last season, when he played in just nine of the Lakers' final 74 games due to recurrent pain in his back and legs.

The Lakers had hoped Nash would be their starting point guard this season, but the club also acquired Jeremy Lin and signed veteran free-agent Ronnie Price. Los Angeles, which missed the playoffs last season for just the third time in 38 years, has been projected for a rough season even with a healthy Nash.

Giants' Hudson to face Royals' Guthrie in Game 3

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 5:47pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) In the middle of a champagne-and-beer-soaked clubhouse after the San Francisco Giants won the NL Championship Series, Tim Hudson was given the chance to speak to his team.

The message was as simple as Hudson's approach on the mound: "World Series, baby!"

After 16 years, 214 regular-season wins and seven failed trips to the postseason, Hudson has finally made it to baseball's biggest stage at age 39.

Hudson is set to take the mound Friday night for the Giants when they return home to face Jeremy Guthrie and the Royals in Game 3 of the World Series after a two-game split in Kansas City.

"It's almost a sense of relief that it's finally here, that what I've hoped and dreamed for throughout my career is finally here, and there's not going to be anybody on the field that's more ready than I am tomorrow night," Hudson said Thursday.

Hudson's brilliant career began on the other side of San Francisco Bay as he helped Oakland make four straight trips to the postseason that ended with Game 5 losses in the division series.

Hudson got back to the playoffs with Atlanta, losing in the division series in 2005 to Houston and 2010 to San Francisco. The Braves made it again last year when Hudson was hurt but lost again in the division series.

After signing a $23 million, two-year contract this offseason with San Francisco, Hudson finally got to experience postseason success.

"You often wonder, is it ever going to happen? Obviously, last year the way my season ended with my ankle injury, things looked a little bleak there for a few moments," Hudson said. But I'm just really lucky."

Hudson got no-decisions in his first two postseason starts, allowing five runs in 13 2-3 innings against Washington and St. Louis.

The limited work of late has paid dividends. Hudson looks much fresher than he did in September when he went 0-4 with an 8.72 ERA in five starts to end the season while dealing with a bum hip. He finished the season with a 9-13 record for his first losing campaign ever.

"It's hard enough to play this game when you're healthy, but when you're pitching and your hip's bothering you a little bit - and he's a warrior," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He was never complaining. He was never making excuses, but it was a fact. I think it was affecting him a little bit."

Guthrie had a long wait just to get to the playoffs. He made his first postseason appearance at age 35 when he allowed one run in five innings of a no-decision against Baltimore in Game 3 of the ALCS.

That start is Guthrie's only outing the past four weeks; he did not pitch in the division series sweep against the Angels. So Guthrie has done his best to stay sharp with side work instead of pitching in games.

He has also spent time serving as a translator for some of Kansas City's Spanish-speaking players. Guthrie completed a Mormon mission to Spain when he was in college, not picking up a baseball for two years.

But Guthrie revived his career when he returned and transferred to Stanford, becoming a first-round pick in 2002 and eventually a major leaguer.

He said he learned at Stanford the importance of going deep into games - something that was most evident when he went 13 innings to beat Cal-State Fullerton in the NCAA tournament his final year there.

"Four days before the draft, Scott Boras my agent, or adviser at that time, was there, and I don't think he was anticipating or hoping for 13 innings that close to the draft," Guthrie said. "But it was 147 pitches. Again, it was a reflection of competing to the end, it's yours to win, and watching kind of the pitchers pitch by pitch, and seeing how they're doing versus kind of letting the number dictate when they were going to be taken out."

With a stellar bullpen led by Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis behind him in Kansas City, Guthrie knows he won't be asked to go that deep on a team that has had only one starter pitch into the seventh this postseason.

"That's been the result, but we're out there trying to get as deep as we can," Guthrie said. "For us to win a game without having to throw all three of our relievers at the back end, Kelvin, and Wade, and Greg, will only give our team a better chance to win throughout the series."

---

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

Titans: Rookie Zach Mettenberger will start at QB

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:53pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans have kicked their youth movement into high gear with rookie Zach Mettenberger starting at quarterback against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Jake Locker has missed three of the past four games with injuries, and coach Ken Whisenhunt said Thursday that the decision to go with Mettenberger was made Tuesday. The coach said this is an opportunity to see what the sixth-round draft pick out of LSU can do with the Titans struggling at 2-5.

"No question he's a talented, young player, and maybe it'll give us a spark," Whisenhunt said. "Offensively, we haven't exactly been lighting it up, so that's part of it in consideration."

Whisenhunt waited to announce the change to make sure Locker - who has been sidelined with an injured thumb - is healthy enough to back up Mettenberger. The coach also was trying to buy a day to slow down the Texans' preparation for the rookie. The shake-up dropped Charlie Whitehurst, who started three of the past four games with the Titans losing two of those, to third on the depth chart.

Mounting losses and injuries seemed to make the change inevitable.

The Titans had stuck with Locker, the eighth pick overall in 2011, since hiring Whisenhunt in January. But Locker has missed 17 of a possible 39 starts and finished only three games this season because of injuries.

Mettenberger will become the fourth rookie quarterback to start in the NFL this season, the third quarterback for Whisenhunt. The Titans already are starting left tackle Taylor Lewan, linebacker Avery Williamson and running back Bishop Sankey with Mettenberger the fourth of six draft picks to start this season.

The quarterback dropped to the sixth round after tearing his left ACL on Nov. 29 playing for LSU but led the NFL this preseason with 659 yards passing. The rookie shaved the beard he started growing during training camp after practice just before talking to reporters.

"By no means am I a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning," Mettenberger said as he leaned back against his locker. "This is going to be my first game, so really I just got to get the ball out of my hands quick, avoid turnovers and put the ball in the (hands of) guys who can make plays for us. Really that's the biggest thing a young guy's got to do."

Whisenhunt had promised he would be more patient with quarterbacks in his second time around as a head coach. He reached the 2009 Super Bowl in Arizona with Kurt Warner, but the coach cycled through quarterbacks after the veteran left. Whisenhunt started Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and finally Brian Hoyer in his final season in 2012.

Once in Tennessee, he inherited Locker who was coming off a Lisfranc injury to his right foot that cost him the final seven games of the 2013 season. The Titans did not pick up Locker's option for 2015 in May, even as they stood behind him as their starter.

But Locker hurt his right wrist in a loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 21. He missed a loss at Indianapolis and then started Oct. 5 against Cleveland where he threw for a touchdown and ran for another TD before hurting his right thumb on a helmet.

"I understood after last year I didn't know kind of how it would go and coming into this year they gave me an opportunity," Locker said. "I haven't been in. I haven't played. That's been kind of one of those things that I've dealt with throughout my career, and I imagine it has something to do with that."

Fans have been clamoring to see Mettenberger with the Titans losing five of their last six. This franchise also needs to give people a reason to use their tickets and come to the stadium where they have won only two of their last nine home games.

Mettenberger fits the profile of the quarterback Whisenhunt has had the most success with: Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. Mettenberger is 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds who can stand in the pocket, and he has a strong arm throwing for 3,082 yards last season at LSU. With Locker's injured thumb, Mettenberger also had taken some practice work with the starters over the past two weeks.

He will be the first rookie this franchise has started since 2010. Rusty Smith started at Houston after Vince Young was placed on injured reserve and veteran Kerry Collins was hurt. Smith and the Titans lost 20-0.

---

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Braves make Hart president of baseball operations

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 12:14pm

ATLANTA (AP) John Schuerholz completed what he called "the best negotiation of my entire career" by convincing his longtime friend John Hart to accept the role of president of baseball operations.

With Hart taking the newly created title on Thursday, the Braves aren't looking for a general manager. The 66-year-old Hart agreed to a three-year contract that will continue through the team's first season at its new stadium in Cobb County.

Hart became interim general manager Sept. 22. The team had sought a full-time replacement for Frank Wren, who was fired last month after a 79-83 finish this season.

Hart, Schuerholz and former Braves manager Bobby Cox formed the GM search committee. Hart said last month his only interest was in the interim job, but Schuerholz, the team president, wouldn't accept that as a final answer.

"We met as transition team quite a number of times and when we were at the meetings invariably I'd pull out my list and I'd say `OK, are we going to talk about the GMs?"' Hart said. "At some point John would get up, he'd take a phone call, he'd go to the bathroom. ... I think all along I did feel and know that John clearly wanted me to take this job."

Hart, the former GM for the Rangers and Indians, joined the Braves last year as a senior adviser.

Schuerholz described Hart as "a man who has demonstrated great ability in constructing winning baseball organizations, winning baseball teams, creating staffs of very capable people empowered to do great jobs in each of the organizations he has run."

Hart said he has turned down similar opportunities with other teams that lacked the "personal component" he has with Schuerholz.

Schuerholz, who was the Royals' GM before taking over as the Braves' GM in 1990, returned to Kansas City for Game 1 of the World Series this week. He said he was asked by owners and executives why he hadn't convinced Hart to take the full-time role in Atlanta.

Schuerholz said he was told it would be great to have Hart back in baseball.

"So I was motivated by that and came back and had my last and final conversation with my dear friend," Schuerholz said. "I was able to persuade him this was the place to be and this was the organization he could have so much of an impact on in a very positive and energetic way and get us to where we want to be, and that's at the very top, the gold standard baseball organization that we have always been regarded as."

Schuerholz said assistant GM John Coppolella will be Hart's "right-hand man."

"Coppy was a big part of the reason I took this job," Hart said. "I think you will see Coppy is a young man who is going to develop and grow."

Schuerholz sat with Kansas City GM Dayton Moore at the World Series. Moore was a former assistant under Schuerholz with the Braves, but Schuerholz said he never approached Moore about the Braves' position.

"It would be disrespectful for me to even talk to him about that," Schuerholz said.

AP source: Goodell told to testify in Rice appeal

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:38am

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been told to testify in Ray Rice's appeal of his indefinite suspension, a person familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Wednesday night.

Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, the neutral arbiter selected to hear the appeal, informed the parties of her decision Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the appeal have not been made public.

It was uncertain whether Goodell will actually testify. He said this month he would leave the decision to Judge Jones.

"We will continue to respect Judge Jones' confidentiality order regarding this proceeding," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email.

NFL lawyers have argued that Goodell shouldn't have to testify, and instead were offering testimony from Jeff Pash, the NFL's general counsel, and Adolpho Birch, the NFL's vice president for labor policy. Pash and Birch were with Goodell when he met with Rice's side in June to talk about what happened when the former Pro Bowl running back hit his then-fiancee in an elevator.

Rice described details of the incident at that meeting. Goodell has called Rice's description "ambiguous" while Rice's side has maintained he gave exact details.

The hearing will be held Nov. 5 and 6, two people familiar with the case told the AP on Tuesday.

Rice was suspended indefinitely Sept. 8 for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy after a video of the former Pro Bowl running back hitting the woman was released publicly. Goodell originally had suspended the running back for two games.

Once the video became public, the Baltimore Ravens cut Rice, and the league banned him indefinitely. The league considered the video to be new evidence, giving Goodell the authority to further suspend Rice.

The players' union appealed Rice's suspension, saying he should not be punished twice.

Jones was jointly picked by the commissioner and the players' union to hear the appeal. The union said at the time that Goodell's testimony as a witness would be crucial in the proceedings.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Rob Maaddi can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ap-robmaaddi

Korean 'superfan' of Royals headed back to KC

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 6:13pm

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The die-hard, long-time Kansas City Royals fan from Seoul who became an international celebrity after he was superstitiously credited with sparking the team's playoff run created quite a scene at Kauffman Stadium Tuesday night before the World Series opener.

Fans clogged stadium concourses, snapping hundreds of photographs of Sung Woo Lee as he made his way to his seat before the first pitch. Lee posed for photos and waved to the adoring blue-clad Royals faithful.

Despite living more than 6,500 miles from Kansas City, Lee sure looked like a familiar face at the Royals' ballpark - and to some, he was.

After learning of his passion for their team, a group of American fans helped Lee arrange a visit to Kansas City in August so he could watch a Royals game in person for the first time. By the time Lee returned to Seoul, the Royals, perennial also-rans, had won nine out of 10 games and were in first place in their division, and Lee had gained widespread fame among sports fans in the United States and in South Korea.

The 38-year-old duty free shop employee is reluctant to make World Series predictions because of worries about jinxing the team. But he also said he can't help imagining a celebration with Royals' players in a champagne-soaked locker room.

Despite being considered a good luck charm by the club and its fan base, Lee said in a telephone interview Monday night that he doesn't feel any pressure.

"I just want to root for the team with fellow Royals fans as hard as I can," he said. "I will try to enjoy every moment."

Lee belongs to a generation of South Korean sports fans in their 30s and 40s who developed an attachment to American professional sports by watching a local TV network for U.S. servicemen stationed in South Korea to guard the heavily-armed border with North Korea.

Free from the obligations of supporting the "local" team, South Korean fans often developed interests in major league teams for quirky reasons. Some of them, for instance, began cheering for the New York Yankees because they thought the team had the best uniforms. Others supported the Atlanta Braves because of Fred McGriff's exaggerated swing motion.

Lee, who has more than 21,800 followers on Twitter, said he began supporting the Royals because he fell in love with Kauffman Stadium when he saw it in the early 90s in a short highlight package shown on what was then known as the American Forces Korea Network.

"The Royals won, and they did the fireworks show afterward with the fountain and the crown logo on the stadium in the background," Lee said. "It was amazing and beautiful."

An official from Lee's employer, Shinsegae Duty Free, thought that Lee's international celebrity was both surprising and amusing. As soon as the Royals reached the World Series, the company found itself receiving huge attention about whether it would allow Lee to attend. Lee joined Shinsegae just a month ago in a busy time when the company is preparing a bid for a new shop at the Incheon International Airport.

"We have arranged his vacation days so that he could stay in the U.S. throughout the run of the World Series," company official Lee Jeong-wook said. He added, with a laugh: "If the Royals win in four, his vacation will be cut short."

---

Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report from Kansas City, Mo.

Kings GM: NHL should educate after Voynov's arrest

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:37pm

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi firmly supports the NHL's indefinite suspension of Slava Voynov, the quiet Russian defenseman arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

Lombardi also believes the NHL must supplement its swift discipline with an improved plan to provide hockey players with better preparation for many aspects of life outside the rink.

"We need to do a better job," Lombardi said. "That's just the truth. I don't care if it's indicting ourselves or not."

The defending Stanley Cup champions uniformly backed the NHL's suspension of Voynov when they returned to practice at their training complex Tuesday.

Voynov hasn't been charged with a crime since his arrest early Monday morning, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the suspension was "very appropriate."

"We're pretty close as a team," Sutter added. "It's not just (a) team. It's more of a family thing. We deal with distractions all the time. We've been able to handle a lot of adversity and pressure for three years now."

Voynov's teammates spoke carefully about his absence, uniformly expressing surprise at the circumstances. The Kings still don't know the details of what happened between Voynov and the woman who was treated for injuries in the Torrance hospital where he was arrested.

Sutter went to Voynov's house in Redondo Beach after his arrest, but the Kings' contact with Voynov has been limited because he turned off his phone.

"Some of us have reached out to him, but we just hope everything is going to work out for the both of them," center Jarret Stoll said. "We're still a strong group. We're still a hockey team. We're still going to win games. Our goal has never changed. Our attitude in this room has never changed. It's adversity for us, but we're going to come through it."

The events are a shock for the Kings, who have won two of the last three Stanley Cup titles with an extraordinarily close-knit roster. Nearly every player lives a few miles apart in the South Bay beach cities, and Lombardi has kept the Kings' core largely intact for several years.

Lombardi assembled his roster with particular attention to team chemistry, but he believes Voynov's arrest should be a call for more player education on domestic violence and other off-ice concerns.

Before Voynov's arrest, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman expressed confidence in the league's education and counseling services already in place. Lombardi said he first thought about doing more for the Kings last year, and he kicks himself for ignoring his instinct.

"We have a bigger responsibility now," Lombardi said. "Just like we expect them to train, and we provide access to training physically, we provide meals so they eat properly, well, you know what? We've got a responsibility here now to train them in other areas, and I don't just mean having a guy come in and give a speech once a year. This is as much our organization's responsibility as anything. We have an obligation here, too. We have to do a better job in some of these areas."

Lombardi supports the NHL's decision to act aggressively before any charges, acknowledging the effect of the NFL's disastrous handling of the Ray Rice case and others.

"Now you have public awareness that would have never been there," Lombardi said. "I come from a lower, blue-collar neighborhood, a factory town, and we've seen this crap, and it's bad, and it happens a lot more often than we want to (acknowledge). But it's never going to come to the fore when a rat hits his wife. ... It can become a good thing overall, that now there's awareness. We've had issues in the past where sports teams swept it under the rug."

Lombardi and the Kings say they never had reason to suspect bad behavior from Voynov, a second-round draft pick in 2008 from Chelyabinsk, a large city in Siberia. Lombardi felt Voynov repeatedly demonstrated strong character and commitment to the club, starting from his U.S. arrival as a teenager.

Despite speaking little English, Voynov agreed to play for the Kings' AHL affiliate instead of staying in Russia's top league, where he would have made more money. He also stuck with the Kings when his father became ill back home, ignoring Russian teams' offers to take care of his family if he returned.

After cracking the Kings' lineup in 2011, Voynov established himself as a top-level defenseman, earning a $25 million contract extension and playing in the Sochi Olympics.

Voynov isn't likely to be charged for at least several days, and the Kings have no idea whether he will be suspended for weeks or months. The league's collective bargaining agreement doesn't spell out specific suspensions for specific charges, Lombardi said.

The Kings (4-1-1) have won four straight games heading into their visit from Buffalo on Thursday. Voynov's absence leaves them with just five healthy defensemen, but Jake Muzzin intends to return from injury.

"We have a group that has been through a lot," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Maybe not like this, but we need to lean on past experiences and trust each other that we can refocus."

Broncos are still No. 1 in AP Pro32 rankings

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:09pm

NEW YORK (AP) It's almost unanimous: The Denver Broncos are still the top team in the NFL.

Denver received 11 first-place votes Tuesday for the AP Pro32 power rankings, which are decided by a 12-member media panel that regularly covers the league.

The Broncos (5-1) are coming off a 42-17 rout of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. Peyton Manning had 318 yards passing and four touchdowns, breaking Brett Favre's record for career TD passes.

"Would anyone be shocked if Peyton Manning threw 600 TD passes before he's finished?" asked Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.

Manning and the Broncos host the AFC West rival San Diego Chargers on Thursday night.

Dallas (6-1) got the other first-place vote. The Cowboys topped the New York Giants 31-21 for their sixth consecutive victory. They are off to their best start since winning six of the first seven in 2007, when they went 13-3 and were the top seed in the NFC.

"Starting to look like the `93 Cowboys," NBC Sports' Tony Dungy said.

ESPN's Herm Edwards agreed.

"Another impressive win for the Cowboys," he said. "They keep rolling."

The Philadelphia Eagles moved up a spot to No. 3, followed by the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Cardinals.

"Another reminder that the Colts are not just as good as Andrew Luck," The Monday Morning Quarterback's Jenny Vrentas said of the Colts' 27-0 shutout of the skidding Cincinnati Bengals.

"Their defense is playing very well."

The Eagles will travel to Glendale, Arizona, to face the Cardinals on Sunday. The Cardinals are 5-1 for the first time in 38 years and are alone atop the NFC West, with a two-game cushion in the loss column over San Francisco and Seattle.

"Is anyone doing a better job coaching a football team than Bruce Arians?" asked Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News.

"His Cardinals are the surprising leader of the NFC West."

After playing the Eagles, the Cardinals face the Cowboys on the road.

"Back-to-back games against Philadelphia and Dallas will prove whether the Cardinals are for real," Foxsports.com's Alex Marvez said.

The Green Bay Packers moved up from No. 9 to 6 after routing the Carolina Panthers 38-17.

"(Aaron) Rodgers bidding for MVP award," Fox Sports' John Czarnecki said.

The Chargers, who fell from No. 2 after a 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens and the Detroit Lions round out the top 10.

"Fourth-quarter heroics from Matthew Stafford lead Detroit to a comeback win over the Saints and a share of first place in the NFC North," Newsday's Bob Glauber said.

The Ravens have won five of six and lead the AFC North.

"The Ravens are suddenly atop the AFC North," Vrentas said. "The next two weeks (at Bengals, at Steelers) hold a lot of weight for this division race."

The 49ers dropped from No. 6 to 11 after the rout in Denver, and the Seahawks went from No. 5 to 12 after their surprising loss to the St. Louis Rams.

"This doesn't look much like the team that won 16 times a year ago on the way to its first Lombardi Trophy," Gosselin said.

---

AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Cowboys release Michael Sam from practice squad

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 3:15pm

IRVING, Texas (AP) Michael Sam will have to wait for a third team to give the NFL's first openly gay player a chance to appear in a regular-season game.

The Dallas Cowboys released Sam from the practice squad Tuesday, dropping the rush end as they prepare for several potential reinforcements to return to the defensive line.

Sam spent seven weeks with the Cowboys after joining their practice squad Sept. 3, four days after he was among the final cuts by the St. Louis Rams at the end of the preseason. He was never placed on the 53-man active roster.

The Rams drafted the former SEC defensive player of the year from Missouri late in the seventh round in May. He was pick No. 249 out of 256. Sam had three sacks in the preseason with St. Louis playing mostly against second- and third-stringers.

Sam thanked the family of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Twitter, along with "friends, family, teammates, and fans for their support."

"While this is disappointing, I will take the lessons I learned here in Dallas and continue to fight for an opportunity to prove that I can play every Sunday," Sam wrote.

The signing of Sam by the Cowboys brought an overflow crowd to coach Jason Garrett's daily news conference, and he was surrounded by about two dozen reporters in the only interview he conducted on the same day.

But he mostly blended in after that, making occasional appearances in the locker room when it was open to the media and earning praise from Garrett and defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli the few times they were asked about him.

"Comes to work every day and practices hard," Garrett said last week. "One of 10 practice roster guys that we have, so he's working on his skills, trying to develop, but also doing a lot of other things. Playing offense, defense, playing the kicking game. That's what a lot of those guys do."

Sam came out to his Missouri teammates before his senior season, when he had 11 1/2 sacks. He told the rest of the world three months before the May draft. After Sunday's 31-21 win over the New York Giants, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told USA Today that Sam's sexuality was "a dead issue."

The Cowboys (6-1), off to their best start since they were 12-1 in 2007, are playing their second straight NFC East opponent at home, with Washington (2-5) visiting Monday night.

The Rams didn't keep Sam because they had depth on the defensive front. The same situation is developing for the Cowboys, who are among the league's worst in sacks but have been getting solid production with a rotation in the front four of a defense exceeding expectations.

Dallas has rookie second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence close to coming back after breaking his right foot in training camp. He was placed on short-term injured reserve and will be eligible to play next week against Arizona.

Veteran defensive end Anthony Spencer gets stronger each week in his return from microfracture knee surgery that sidelined him all but one game last season.

Defensive tackle Josh Brent, who is serving a 10-game suspension for his intoxication manslaughter conviction in the 2012 death of teammate Jerry Brown, returns to practice next week. He will be eligible to play Nov. 23 at the Giants.

While releasing Sam, the Cowboys added linebacker Troy Davis of Central Florida and defensive tackle Ken Bishop of Northern Illinois to their practice squad.

---

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

AP sources: Rice's appeal hearing set for Nov. 5-6

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 1:30pm

A hearing on Ray Rice's appeal of his indefinite suspension will be held Nov. 5 and 6, two people familiar with the situation said Tuesday.

The people spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details of the hearing have not been made public.

Rice was suspended indefinitely Sept. 8 for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy after a video of Rice hitting his then-fiancee in an elevator was released publicly. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell originally had suspended Rice for two games.

Once the video became public, the Baltimore Ravens cut the star running back, and the league banned him indefinitely. The league considered the video to be new evidence, giving Goodell the authority to further suspend Rice.

The players' union is appealing Rice's suspension, saying Rice should not be punished twice.

A neutral arbiter is expected to decide whether Goodell should testify. The arbiter had not yet made that decision as of Tuesday afternoon, the sources who informed the AP of the hearing said.

The arbiter, former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, was jointly picked by the commissioner and the players' union. Union officials said when the appeal was announced that Goodell and his staff's testimony are key to the appeal and a central reason to have an outside arbiter.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Rob Maaddi can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ap-robmaaddi

NCAA: SI allegations vs Oklahoma St 'unfounded'

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 1:30pm

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) The Oklahoma State football program escaped its "day of reckoning" nearly unscathed.

The NCAA and the school announced Tuesday that allegations of widespread misconduct outlined in a Sports Illustrated expose last year were "fundamentally unfounded."

A joint inquiry by the NCAA and an independent investigator retained by the school, former NCAA enforcement official Chuck Smrt, reviewed approximately 50,000 emails and documents, and included nearly 100 interviews of current and former administrators, coaches, staff, athletes, students and prospects as well as alumni and donors.

Smrt said the number of emails and documents reviewed was unusually high for such a case, and the result of the search terms and large number of people involved.

"If we had done something wrong or were doing something wrong, we wanted to know," Oklahoma State President V. Burns Hargis said. "Based on that review, we learned that the Sports Illustrated claims of monetary payments for athletic achievements, improper academic assistance provided by our academic services staff, rampant drug use and inappropriate interaction with football players during recruiting trips were fundamentally unfounded."

Athletic director Mike Holder told The Associated Press last month that he wasn't sure what the investigation would find, but the "day of reckoning" was coming, and he had hoped the school would come out of it looking "like true Cowboys."

Hargis said three potential infractions were discovered and reported to the NCAA. He said "it appears we may have misapplied our drug testing policy and on-campus recruiting practices" and the policies have been modified.

Now that the investigation has concluded with mostly good results for the school, the stigma no longer hangs over football coach Mike Gundy's program.

"It's a big relief," Hargis said. "I'm gratified and I'm relieved, but I must say I'm not terribly surprised. It didn't come as a shock to me what happened. Even going back to when I first read the articles, what they were claiming was so opposite to my experience with this program and with coach Holder and coach Gundy, and it made no sense to me."

SI said it interviewed more than 60 former players and found evidence of potential NCAA violations under coaches Les Miles and current coach Gundy dating back to 2001. The series of stories included numerous former Oklahoma State players making allegations of cash payments to players, academic misconduct, inconsistent enforcement of drug policies and some of the school's recruiting hostesses having sex with prospects from 2001-10. Miles is now the coach at LSU.

The magazine issued a statement Tuesday defending its reporting.

"Sports Illustrated firmly stands behind its comprehensive series on the Oklahoma State program. The investigation by the NCAA and an outside consultant hired by Oklahoma State was limited in scope but nonetheless revealed multiple NCAA violations including a `failure to monitor,"' the magazine said. "Nowhere does the report say our work is fundamentally unfounded and in fact it points to its own limitations in its ability to corroborate SI's findings."

After the allegations, Hargis endorsed both Gundy, who has been leading the program since 2005, and Holder, who also took over his current role in 2005. None of the accusations directly implicated Gundy of inappropriate conduct.

According to the series, three former players told SI that they dealt marijuana while members of the 2001, `04 and `06 teams. Defensive end William Bell told SI he made between $300 and $400 each week selling marijuana. Thomas Wright said there was cocaine use at times.

The magazine named 13 former players who said they had work done for them or received other improper academic assistance. One of them, former receiver Artrell Woods, said he didn't write "a single paper" during his three years at Oklahoma State and simply typed what tutors dictated to him.

Some players described a weekly counseling session during the 2003 season for those who had tested positive for marijuana. SI reported that the sessions were allegedly reserved for top players who could attend and still continue to use marijuana without penalty.

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2007 and 2008, and North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, the Cowboys' offensive coordinator from 2005-07, were among several people with previous affiliations with the program who disputed the allegations.

T. Boone Pickens, who has given more than $500 million to Oklahoma State for athletics and academics, said when the report was initially released that he was disappointed in Sports Illustrated, and the articles don't indicate what the program has become.

"You'd think people were running wild here, just breaking the rules," Hargis said. "It was so extreme, I think most people kind of read it and said this doesn't make sense."

---

Online:

Oklahoma St investigation site: http://response.okstate.edu

---

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

Thunder star Durant won't rush return from injury

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 1:13pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder forward Kevin Durant is having a tough time getting used to the fact that he will miss the early part of the season with a bone fracture in his right foot.

"I've been antsy since I got out of surgery," he said Tuesday. "Seen that Chicago-Cleveland game last night, and I wanted to get out there and play. As a competitor, I love to play basketball - that's all I've been doing. Injuries have never had me out this long, but it's part of the game."

The reigning MVP spoke to the media Tuesday morning for the first time since the injury. He had surgery on Oct. 16 and will be re-evaluated in about five weeks, or late November. He rolled into the media session on a scooter with the lower half of his right leg in a cast.

Durant said he's never had surgery, so he doesn't know how he will respond to it. He says he won't rush his return.

"Blessed that it happened early in the season so I can get past it, and hopefully, by December, I'll be ready to play," he said.

Durant, who has played more minutes than anyone since entering the league in 2007, is finding other ways to contribute to the team.

"Just help out as much as possible, lead from where I am, which is the sideline," he said. "I feel like a coach, feel like (Alabama football coach) Nick Saban, rolling around on my scooter from court to court giving advice and trying to help out as much as I can. It's a different position for me, but I'm looking forward to growing mentally watching the game and learning from my teammates, trying to help them as much as I can."

He said the situation presents an opportunity for his teammates to grow, and he feels that the team will be better off in the long run as a result.

"It's going to give guys opportunities to play, build confidence, build their chemistry as a team," he said. "So I'm looking at the positive side of it. It's a win-win, basically, because I'm learning a lot while I'm out about the game, and my teammates are getting a lot of opportunities because it's a lot of minutes out there to play and help contribute to the team."

---

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

Steelers rally past stunned Texans 30-23

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 7:47pm

PITTSBURGH (AP) The deluge started with a desperation third-down heave, a trickle that turned into a downpour and led to another abrupt turn in the Pittsburgh Steelers' confounding season.

Good one week and lousy the next, Pittsburgh managed to be both in a 30-23 victory over the mistake-prone Houston Texans on Monday night.

Ben Roethlisberger passed for two touchdowns and wide receiver Antonio Brown added another on a gadget play during a decisive 73-second stretch late in the first half that moved the Steelers from down 10 to an 11-point lead.

"You stand on the sidelines long enough, you will see explosions such as that," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "It was good to be on the good side of it."

Roethlisberger finished with 265 yards passing. Le'Veon Bell racked up 145 yards of total offense, including a 43-yard catch-and-run with less than 2 minutes to go in the first half that became the spark the Steelers desperately needed.

"That provided the type of emotion the group needed," Tomlin said. "Then we kind of fed off that. The guys really capitalized on it."

Arian Foster ran for 102 yards for Houston (3-4), but just 29 over the final three quarters. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 21 of 32 for 262 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but the Texans were undone by three turnovers, including consecutive offensive snaps that handed the momentum over to the Steelers.

"We had a terrible second quarter," Houston coach Bill O'Brien said. "We couldn't come back from it. Just too many turnovers. We just had a hard time overcoming all those things."

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt recovered a fumble and picked up his third sack of the season but was neutralized for most of the second half.

Pittsburgh was listless for the first 25 minutes, letting Foster and Fitzpatrick do whatever they wanted as the Texans raced to a 13-0 lead that seemed larger.

A 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal with 3:08 left in the half gave the Steelers a minor boost.

A strike from Roethlisberger to Bell provided a much larger one shortly after the 2-minute warning. Roethlisberger hit the versatile back for a 43-yard gain - Pittsburgh's longest pass play of the season - to move the ball to the Houston 35.

Roethlisberger then found Martavis Bryant, who struggled staying healthy in the preseason and spent the first six weeks on the inactive list, with a beautiful rainbow that the rookie caught in the back of the end zone to make it 13-10 with 1:27 left.

"Everybody started clicking," Bryant said. "Everybody woke up. It was good to make the play to have the team wake up, get the momentum going."

The Steelers were just getting started.

Foster fumbled deep in Houston territory two plays after Bryant's score and the Steelers recovered. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who has faced heavy criticism for his play-calling, went deep into his book to help the Steelers take the lead.

On first-and-goal, Roethlisberger flipped the ball to Brown, who was coming in motion. The Pro Bowl wide receiver then spun back around to his left and fired a strike to Lance Moore in the end zone.

"We worked on it like two times in practice," Brown said. "The first time was a little funny but the second time it panned out."

Houston's issues escalated on the next snap when Fitzpatrick's throw over the middle was deflected into the arms of Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel. The 36-year-old took the second pick of his career to the Houston 8.

Roethlisberger found Brown for a 6-yard gain and then hit Bell - who was uncovered after going in motion - for a touchdown.

The turnaround left Heinz Field euphoric and the Texans and Watt stunned.

The Steelers methodically added on in the second half, extending the lead to 14 points on a pair of Suisham field goals before a late scoring pass from Fitzpatrick to Foster provided the final margin.

The end played in stark contrast to the beginning, when the Texans dominated.

Fitzpatrick found rookie running back Alfred Blue for an 11-yard touchdown pass to end a 10-play, 94-yard drive on the Texans' opening possession before Watt went to work.

The MVP candidate recovered a Roethlisberger fumble, leading to a 39-yard field goal by Randy Bullock that gave Houston a 10-0 lead. Watt later dropped Roethlisberger for his third sack of the year.

It was the third time this season that Watt had a fumble recovery and a sack in the same game. No other player in the NFL has more than one.

Still, it couldn't stop the Texans from extending a slide that has erased the positive vibes from their promising 3-1 start.

NOTES: Bell became the first player in Steelers history to start the season with seven straight games of 100 yards of total offense. ... Texans WR Andre Johnson caught five passes for 77 yards to move past Hall of Famer Steve Largent and into 14th place on the NFL's career yards receiving list. ... Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert left in the first half with a concussion and did not return. ... Watt's fumble recovery was the ninth of his career, a new franchise record. ... The Steelers host Indianapolis on Sunday. The Texans travel to Tennessee.

Pages