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Richard’s Weekly Sports Round-Up

miller-article1It was another non-stop week of excitement in the sports world. Stories were whizzing by left and right. The U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park has lasted what seems like a full week. With happiness, sadness and a little in-between, sports always give us a nice dose of what we need. With summer truly upon us, we have loads of baseball, golf and NASCAR. For the tennis buffs, Wimbledon will keep them entertained for two weeks. We are almost two months away from football season. And, it is about time. I need some goal-line tackles and tight-rope-walking end-zone runs to get my adrenaline going. Until then, the summer-month sports will easily wet my whistle.

10. With the start of Wimbledon this week, tennis officials are looking into a ban on grunting. Currently, an official can reward a point to the grunter’s opponent if the official deems that the noise hindered an opponent’s play. Loud grunting goes back to the days of former world No. 1 Monica Seles. The loudness of her grunts was measured as high as 93 decibels. According to the Decibel Comparison Chart, between 90-95 decibels, sustained exposure to the noise may result in hearing loss. Tennis players such as Russians Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva are well-documented grunters. Sharapova’s loudest grunt at 101 decibels is comparable to a revving motorcycle. Her grunts can be heard hundreds of feet away from the tennis court. My Take: Grunting has never helped my tennis game. And, I played competitively for almost three years. I’ve been told it calms your breathing during strokes and can aid in your confidence. Both statements are true, but I find it to be extremely distracting to your opponent. During match play, men’s tennis great Roger Federer almost never utters a breath above the sound of a whisper. He’ll yell from time to time, but not during a point. I consider grunting to be the equivalent of talking at some point during play. In my opinion, there is no reason for grunting. Why let your opponent think that you are either psychologically or physically struggling. Silence is a better strategy.

9. Florida State University President T.K. Wetherell announced this week that he plans to retire. Wetherell, 63, has held the presidential post since January 2003. Months after being appointed, Wetherell was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He has continually been seeing doctors at the Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville. Wetherell noted that health concerns and approaching challenges for FSU were reasons for him to vacate the position. He plans to pursue teaching and spend more quality time with his family. My Take: According to reports, Wetherell recently received a clean bill of health. However, after six years of battling prostate cancer, he has to be mentally and physically drained. The stress of being a university president has worn him out tremendously. For now, he will continue to be the President until a successor is found. And, after being replaced, Wetherell will be a tenured professor in the College of Education. His free time will be much greater than it currently is as President. Also, it rarely happens that a professor gets torn apart publicly for making what the students consider a poor decision. He’ll be safe in the classroom.

8. Suspended Los Angeles Dodger outfielder Manny Ramirez begins a minor league assignment Tuesday for the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate. After violating MLB’s drug policy, Ramirez was suspended May 7 for 50 games. The Dodgers would like Ramirez to play three games for the Isotopes and another four in Class-A. Beginning Tuesday, the Isotopes hold a four-game home-stand against the Nashville Sounds. Ramirez is expected to return to the majors on July 3. Under his suspension, prior to his reinstatement, he can play 10 games in the minor leagues. After rumors began to swirl that Ramirez would be dressing out for the Isotopes, the team’s ticket office was receiving hundreds of phone calls. As of Sunday, the LA Dodgers have the best record in the majors with a 45-24 record. My Take: The Dodgers could clinch a playoff spot without Manny Ramirez. The club doesn’t need him during the regular season, but when the playoffs roll around Manny will be needed. Even if he is a risk on the field, his experience in the batter’s box cannot be ignored. With the loss of Manny, 31-year-old Juan Pierre has made the loss hardly noticeable in the lineup. When October approaches, the talk will not be about Manny’s 50-game suspension, but his end-of-the-year stats.

7. Multiple college football conferences are axing their media days. The Ohio Valley Conference, the Big Sky Conference and the Southern Conference are dropping their Media Days because of budgetary reasons. The Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA are replacing Media Day with a video teleconference for the media to interview players and coaches. Conferences are making the difficult decision so that schools can receive more revenue. The publicity field day might return next season. The conferences are reporting that by avoiding Media Day an estimated $30,000 will be saved for each team. Not all media days are getting the cut. The Southeastern Conference will hold the event in Birmingham, Alabama, from July 22-24. The Atlantic Coast Conference will assemble Media Day on July 26 and 27. My Take: Along with National Signing Day and the Spring Game, Media Day was the only way fans could get a taste of college football during the offseason. Cutting media days for the smaller conferences is no surprise. But, don’t expect the major football conferences to cut media days. Media Days aren’t an absolute must like they used to be. In today’s 24/7 news format, college football never truly has an offseason.

6. Southern California has hired Kevin O’Neill as its men’s basketball head coach. On Saturday, it was announced that O’Neill would take over the program. A news conference will be held today to formally introduce O’Neill. The hiring comes after former head coach Tim Floyd resigned on June 9. Recruiting violations have been circling the USC basketball program for the past month. The USC Trojans have lost 8 recruits because of the allegations. The 52-year-old Kevin O’Neill has been a basketball coach for almost 30 years. Most recently, he was the interim head coach for the Arizona Wildcats when Lute Olson took a leave of absence. From 2000 to 2006, O’Neill spent time in the NBA ranks. He was an assistant with the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers. He was the head coach of the Toronto Raptors for the 2003-04 season. My Take: Kevin O’Neill is a coach to help the USC program through this rough patch, nothing more. An impressive coaching resume is not the reason O’Neill was hired. Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon, Nevada Las Vegas head coach Lon Kruger and former New York Knick head coach Jeff Van Gundy all turned down the USC job. Obviously, O’Neill was not the first choice to fill the void. He won’t repair the damage Tim Floyd has created. USC will continue to be known for their football program and expect O’Neill to last two or three years in Los Angeles.

5. Recently-crowned NBA champion Kobe Bryant and Cleveland Cavalier superstar LeBron James are dueling off the court with their t-shirts. LeBron was photographed in New York City last week wearing a t-shirt reading “LBJ” and underneath it “MVP.” It was an obvious reference to the NBA MVP trophy he won this past season. During the Los Angeles Lakers’ victory parade in LA, Kobe was sporting a Nike shirt with a four-fingered hand on it and each finger had an NBA championship ring on it. After defeating the Orlando Magic in 5 games, Kobe Bryant now has 4 NBA titles. A few days later, LeBron’s rebuttal was a white t-shirt with the statement in all caps “Check My $tats.” Three years ago, LeBron signed a 5-year, $80 million extension with the Cavs. American tennis star Serena Williams made her point known with a shirt reading “Are you looking at my titles?” Serena has 10 Grand Slam singles titles in her trophy case. My Take: With the creation of Twitter and the non-stop media coverage, professional athletes will continue to be placed under a microscope. I find the Kobe/LeBron t-shirt battle to be quite entertaining. I’m sure it is the brainchild of NBA commissioner David Stern. After the Kobe/LeBron puppet commercial played throughout the NBA playoffs, the NBA front office folk were unsatisfied with Kobe Bryant playing the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic in the Finals. But, to perform at an elite level, an ego is a must. It is fun to keep track of their t-shirts’ war of the words.

4. It was a week to forget for Donte Stallworth, wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail in Miami for the DUI manslaughter of 59-year-old Mario Reyes. Driving a black Bentley, Stallworth killed Reyes when he struck him with the car on March 14. Stallworth accepted full responsibility for the death and was very remorseful. He reached a financial settlement with the family. Therefore, the sentencing was much more lenient. On Thursday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to Stallworth telling him he is suspended indefinitely without pay for the 2009 NFL season. In addition to his 30 days in jail, Stallworth has a suspended driver’s license for life and must complete 1,000 hours of community service. After his jail sentence, Stallworth will serve two years under house arrest and another 8 years of probation. Roger Goodell plans to meet with Donte Stallworth in the coming months to discuss Stallworth’s actions. My Take: Mario Reyes’ family settled with Donte Stallworth outside of court and that’s why Stallworth received a generous 30-day sentence. The case was resolved, and the family was financially compensated for the loss. I’m guessing Stallworth forked over a large sum of money to the family, which is nearly no compensation at all for human life. I’m relieved though that Stallworth admitted guilt and accepted full responsibility for his actions. Unlike former star quarterback Michael Vick, Stallworth didn’t result to lying to avoid a legal battle. But, Stallworth still got off easy. A typical DUI manslaughter conviction in the state of Florida calls for no more than a $10,000 fine and/or 15 years in prison. Stallworth will play in the NFL again, but not with the Cleveland Browns. Hopefully, he will find it in his heart to perform community service and speak to young people about the dangers of drinking and operating a vehicle.

3. The Jacksonville Jaguars cut backup quarterback Cleo Lemon on Wednesday after only one season with the team. Along with the release of Lemon, defensive end Mkristo Bruce, offensive lineman Drew Miller and cornerback Weldon Brown were told their services would no longer be needed. Lemon, a 6-year NFL veteran, played in only two games with the Jaguars. While with the Jaguars, he never completed a regular-season pass. Lemon was signed to play with the Jaguars in February 2008. The deal was for three years and almost $9 million. During the 2007 season with the Miami Dolphins, Lemon recorded his best NFL year. He started 7 games while throwing for 1,773 yards with 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. My Take: Jaguars general manager Gene Smith continues to clean up former general manager Shack Harris’ mess. He realizes which players are necessary components and which ones are burning holes in the Jaguars’ wallet. Cleo Lemon was never deserving of such a large contract. It was evident he was kept around because of the deal he signed, and head coach Jack Del Rio even admitted to it last week. It’s just another Shack Harris deal corrected by Gene Smith. He is truly cleaning house. Cleo Lemon was more well-known for earning nicknames such as “Miss Cleo” than his play on the field. With last month’s signing of career backup Todd Bouman, the Jaguars have now sent the message that only two quarterbacks will be on the opening-day roster.

2. According to the New York Times, former MLB slugger Sammy Sosa tested positive for a banned substance in 2003. Sosa’s name is the second player’s name to be released on a list of 104 MLB players who tested positive back in 2003. In February, New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez was the first to be revealed. Sosa is sixth on the all-time homerun list with 609. During the 2003 season, while playing for the Chicago Cubs, Sosa was found to be playing with a corked bat. He testified before Congress in 2005 that he had “never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.” Sosa has been out of baseball since 2007 when he last played with the Texas Rangers. He has not officially retired from the MLB and has recently said that he expects to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. Sammy Sosa became a household name in 1998 when he and St. Louis Cardinal slugger Mark McGwire vied for the title of single-season homerun king. My Take: Oh no! Not Sammy Sosa! Give me a break. A grain of rice could have told you Sammy Sosa was on that 104-player list. Now we know that it is lawyers’ releasing players’ names and not just Selena Roberts’ trying to sell more “A-Rod” books. The steroid scandal discussion will never be put to bed. Even with the cloud surrounding the 1998 season, I will always have positive memories of the 1998 homerun race. It piqued my interest in Major League Baseball. Personally, I agree with FOX baseball analyst Tim McCarver on steroid users’ being in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Create another wing in the Hall for them. If this many players were using, it’s impossible to escape the facts. It’ll hurt the game more if we ignore it, which we have no problem doing right now.

1. This year’s U.S. Open will be played into today. Television coverage of the final round begins at 9 a.m. on ESPN. It will carry the first 2 ½ hours of the Open, then NBC will cover the closing holes. American Ricky Barnes is tied for the lead with a 7-under total. Over the weekend, he set the U.S. Open record for the lowest score on the first 36 holes with a 132, 8-under par. Fellow American Lucas Glover also holds the lead. The twosome finished Hole No. 1 before darkness fell last night. New York favorite Phil Mickelson is in a four-way tie for third place with a 2-under. He is tied with Americans Hunter Mahan, David Duval and Englishman Ross Fisher. After completing seven holes in the final round, U.S. Open favorite Tiger Woods is tied for eighth at even par. My Take: Tiger Woods has no shot at winning his fourth U.S. Open. It is a two-man race between Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover. Look for the 28-year-old Barnes to choke today. It won’t be a choke job of epic proportions like Jean Van de Velde’s at the 1999 British Open. It will be a choke nonetheless. I anticipate Lucas Glover, a 6-year PGA Tour player, to win his second career tournament. This year, Glover has finished in a tie for third at the Buick Invitational and tied for second at the Quail Hollow Championship. This tournament won’t produce a spectacular Monday finish like we witnessed last year at Torrey Pines.

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Looking Ahead

5. The 2010 NFL Draft seems like light years away from now. However, it’s impossible not to be thinking of the gridiron and the sounds of bone-crushing hits placed upon it. Sporting News draft expert Russ Lande has already projected the top 15 picks for next year. Notable selections are University of Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap at No. 6 to the Cincinnati Bengals and his star quarterback teammate Tim Tebow No. 13 overall to the Washington Redskins. Lande, a former NFL scout, has the Jacksonville Jaguars choosing Dez Bryant, wide receiver out of Oklahoma State, at No. 8.

4. Boston Red Sox pitcher John Smoltz discussed his next start on the Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday. He said he is set to pitch against the Nationals on Thursday. The 42-year-old Smoltz has been recovering from right shoulder surgery. It has been a little over one year since Smoltz went under the knife. In his last rehab start, the future Hall-of-Famer went four innings while allowing one run for Triple-A Pawtucket.

3. The NCAA Men’s Baseball College World Series is coming to a close. Louisiana State and Texas have each gone 3-0 in the 8-team bracket to secure a berth in the finals. The finals begin today at 6 p.m. on ESPN. Game 2 is on Tuesday night; same time and station. If necessary, Game 3 is on Wednesday night. Five-time national champion LSU will be vying for its first title since 2000. The Texas Longhorns are looking for their first CWS title since 2005, their most recent appearance in the CWS.

2. The 2009 NBA Draft is this Thursday, June 25. Draft coverage is on ESPN starting at 7 p.m. It’s no surprise that former Oklahoma Sooner Blake Griffin will be going No. 1 overall to the Los Angeles Clippers. Point guards Stephen Curry of Davidson and 18-year-old Spaniard Ricky Rubio are considered to be top-5 picks. Florida State guard Toney Douglas is being looked at as a mid-second round pick.

1. Wimbledon, the most celebrated tennis tournament in the world, begins today. Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who was the No. 1 seed for the tournament, pulled out because of left knee tendinitis. Without Nadal in the draw, there is no chance for an epic 5-set repeat of the 2008 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer. Federer, a 14-time Grand Slam winner, is the No. 2 seed, and Scotland’s Andy Murray is the No. 3 seed. On the women’s side, Russian Dinara Safina, the loser of three Grand Slam finals, is the No. 1 seed. American sisters Serena and Venus Williams are seeded No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

4 Responses »

  1. I've enjoyed reading your column. Thanks for summarizing the sports.

  2. Excellent update on the very latest in the sports world. I hope that Phil Mickelson can gain a better position in the finals and win the whole tournament. Thanks for the detailed roundup.

  3. GREAT UPDATE. Can't believe we are still hearing about Smoltz. He has had quite a run even with injuries. Got to give him some credit for hanging in there.

  4. Nice prediction on the U.S. Open. I have fond memories of Bethpage State Park on Long Island, where I was a caddy many years ago, and the infamous Black course.