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A Federal grand-jury investigation of 49ers co-Owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. is "focusing on a $400,000 cash payment he made to former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards less than three weeks before his company obtained a casino license in Louisiana, according to people with knowledge of the probe" and cited by Laurie Cohen of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The investigation began in fall '96 when the FBI wiretapped Edwards' home and law office (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/4). A source told the S.F. CHRONICLE that Federal agents "were listening" when DeBartolo "offered to pay" as much as $400,000 for the license and that he "got caught in an elaborate federal sting" aimed at Edwards. The source added: "There's no question who the government was after. Then along comes Eddie" (Fagan, Pimentel & Dietz, S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/4). In Baton Rouge, former Gov. Edwards said that the $383,500 that the FBI seized was paid to him by DeBartolo to "watch out for his interests." Edwards: "DeBartolo never asked me or intimated or suggested that I do anything improper, out of line, or unethical. And no one can say otherwise." He added that DeBartolo paid him the money this year, "well after" he left office (Peter Shinkle, Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, 12/4). If convicted, DeBartolo "could be banned for life" from the NFL (S.F. EXAMINER, 12/3). SPEAKS TO THE TEAM: 49ers President Carmen Policy said that DeBartolo had spoken to the team in a "closed meeting." He said a "somewhat emotional but controlled" DeBartolo told players that he was "committed to the team's future and would be back" (S.F. EXAMINER, 12/3). Policy added that DeBartolo's "pending indictment" would not affect the team and that "there would be no impediment" to the team's new stadium project. Policy: "The DeBartolo Corp. is doing quite well. They will be able to withstand whatever ramifications." He "rejected" suggestions that DeBartolo and his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, who is a 50% partner in the team, "would be forced to sell because of the legal problems" (Fagan, Pimentel & Dietz, S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/4). In San Jose, Mark Purdy calls DeBartolo's resignation "overrated," and quotes one NFL team exec as saying, "Around the league, I think most people will believe that Ed DeBartolo is still going to play some part in major 49er decisions" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/4). In S.F., Ray Ratto wrote under the header, "Business As Usual? If So, It May Get Rocky." Ratto: "One wonders if York's ambitions are contained by her familial ties. One wonders if DeBartolo really did resign in more than just name. One wonders whether the NFL would bother to do anything to him even if he is convicted. ... I think we're going to have to let this play out a while" (S.F. EXAMINER, 12/3). NOTES: A SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS editorial states: "Whatever the legal outcome of this matter, [DeBartolo's] image in the Bay area will never be quite the same" (MERCURY NEWS, 12/4)....Also in San Jose, Herhold & Carey examine the NFL's guidelines on gambling. DeBartolo's ownership of the 49ers as "he embarked on a bold, two-year venture into the gaming industry was made possible by the [NFL's] lenient restrictions on gambling, as far as owners are concerned." NFL execs said yesterday that while they were "concerned" over his gaming initiatives, they had taken "no firm stand against his activities" (MERCURY NEWS, 12/4).
NHL: With NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman saying that he hopes a bid for the Oilers comes "by Friday," Owner Peter Pocklington is "skeptical" that a local group will produce an offer. Pocklington: "I'm not sure the locals want to sign on the dotted line. The scrutiny you undergo (by the league) nowadays because of the money involved is pretty rigorous" (David Shoalts, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/4)....In Philadelphia, Timothy Dwyer writes that Flyers Chair Ed Snider's contention that his team can't afford Eric Lindros "means he is either going to let Lindros go when he becomes a free agent ... or he is banking on holding the owners together in a coalition that is solidly against raiding one another's rosters." Dwyer: "That stinks of collusion. If Snider can't afford Lindros, then it is time to get Comcast involved. ... Comcast, after all, owns two-thirds of the Flyers and surely ... recognizes a good programming commodity when it sees one" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 12/4). NOTES: The Steelers ended a 64-year tradition by announcing that practices leading up to Sunday's home game against the Broncos would be closed to the media (USA TODAY, 12/4)....In Providence, Sean McAdam wrote that in their contract talks with Mo Vaughn, the Red Sox "reportedly are insisting on a degree of control over Vaughn's community work in Boston, with the opportunity to direct him toward certain charities and events" (JOURNAL-BULLETIN, 12/3).
The Maple Leafs are "searching across North America" for a new COO, according to Marty York of the Toronto GLOBE & MAIL. Sources told York that the new COO will have "at least the same level of authority" as team President & GM Ken Dryden, and "may even rank higher than Dryden." The Leafs have already hired a head-hunter, and sources say that the "leading candidate" is former Trail Blazers President Marshall Glickman. Glickman was "reluctant to discuss" the Leafs yesterday, but "did confirm" that he has had "recent conversations" with the franchise, specifically with Chair Steve Stavro and Minority Partner Larry Tanenbaum. Others who have been approached "either directly or indirectly" include IHL Aeros President Richard Adler, CFL Chair John Tory and Blue Jays Counsel Gord Kirke. Tory "confirmed" the position was brought up to him; Adler was unavailable and Kirke declined to comment (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/4).
The Warriors "terminated" the contract of Latrell Sprewell last night, "in essence, firing him" two days after he attacked Coach P.J. Carlesimo in practice, according to David Steele of the S.F. CHRONICLE. GM Garry St. Jean made the announcement following the team's game last night at the Oakland Arena: "It was not an economical decision. It was about morals and ethics and the right thing to do. And the organization stands very strong with its moral beliefs." Sprewell will lose the remainder of his salary for this year, which is $7.7M, and the $17.3M he was due for the following two seasons. He was placed on waivers and can sign with any team if he is not claimed within 48 hours. The team "invoked clauses concerning good conduct and citizenship included in the standard player contract" and the CBA. The NBA had no comment last night, but the "possibility remains that Sprewell could be banned by the league from playing for part of this season or longer." NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter said the union would appeal the termination. Steele: "It was the first time an NBA player has had his contract terminated for insubordination" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/4). The AP reports that "some NBA players have a personal conduct guarantee in their contracts that prohibits teams from terminating them based upon their behavior. Sprewell, however, had no such protection" (AP/ESPN SportsZone, 12/4). In N.Y., Mike Wise writes that the action "sets the table for a bitter legal battle" between the team and the NBPA (Mike Wise, N.Y. TIMES, 12/4). SPRE-SPEECH: In his first public comments yesterday, Sprewell "refused to apologize" to Carlesimo, and added that, "All the frustrations had built up to the point where I couldn't take it anymore." More Sprewell: "I totally don't condone this behavior, but I just got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/4). FROM THE WARRIORS: More from St. Jean: "There is no issue to compromise. Outrageous misconduct by players in professional sports has been tolerated for too long. We are drawing the line. Some things are more important than winning or losing games" (Ric Bucher, WASHINGTON POST, 12/4). In San Jose, Ann Killion writes that the Warriors' move "makes sense to average folks, and it will probably help" the team's PR profile, but "that doesn't mean this is the end of the Warriors' problems. First, the Warriors don't even know if their action will stand up legally." St. Jean: "We have confidence in the NBA" (MERCURY NEWS, 12/4). NATIONAL REAX: In Chicago, Lacy Banks writes under the header, "Sprewell Incident Wounds League" (SUN-TIMES, 12/4). In Akron, Terry Pluto writes under the header, "These NBA Guys Need A Swift Kick." Pluto, on Sprewell and Scottie Pippen: "I'm just sick of some of these guys. ... Maybe if you play in the NBA, you know that the rules of common decency and respect for your employer and co-workers don't apply" (BEACON JOURNAL, 12/4). USA TODAY's Mike Lopresti, under the header, "NBA Could Soon Choke On Its Troubles," writes "here in a sport with one more bruise on an image that has been defaced enough. ... Something ails the NBA and its world of quick money and quick tempers. Sprewell is not the sickness, only the latest symptom" (USA TODAY, 12/4). In Seattle, Steve Kelly wrote under the header, "Hey, Kids -- NBA Isn't So Fan-Tastic Anymore." Kelly: "Don't believe the slick commercials. ... [T]his NBA season is off to a foundering start. ... The NBA has problems" (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/3). On ABC's "Good Morning America," the Warriors' move was discussed by host Lisa McRee and Mike Lupica. After watching a video clip of the Warriors' St. Jean announcing Sprewell's termination, McRee noted, "Boy, even crew members are saying 'Yes!' when they hear that" ("GMA," ABC, 12/4). CONVERSE SUPPORT: Converse said it "doesn't plan to fire" Sprewell as a spokesperson, according to BLOOMBERG's Scott Newman. Converse signed Sprewell in '94 to a deal that the company says contains "a morals clause that would allow it to end the agreement." Converse VP/Marketing & Communications Jennifer Murray: "Latrell's behavior is inexcusable, unsportsmanlike, and something that we in no way condone. But he remains one of our endorsers and is still under contract with us" (CONTA COSTA TIMES, 12/3).