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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver yesterday was "understandably excited and proud" when Jason Collins became the first active openly gay athlete in the four major U.S. pro sports leagues by signing a 10-day contract with the Nets, but he noted that it is "disappointing it took this long for this moment to finally happen in the sports world," according to Tim Bontemps of the N.Y. POST. Silver said, "I have mixed feelings, because I’m enormously proud that the first openly gay player is playing in the NBA. On the other hand, this is so long overdue that I don’t think this should necessarily be on the list of the greatest accomplishments of the NBA." He added, "This is an area where no one in sports should be too proud. Sports has led society in so many critical areas … this is one where we fell behind." Silver said of Collins, "I was disappointed that he wasn’t on a roster at the opening of this season, but I was satisfied after talking to [Collins’ agent] Arn Tellem and talking to several GMs that teams were making a basketball decision, and the fact he wasn’t on a roster at the beginning of this year wasn’t related to his sexuality." While Silver said that he "looks forward to the day when it’s no longer news for a team to sign an openly gay player, he understands" why Collins' signing was "such a big deal." Silver: "It is a big deal for this league, and hopefully, in the way that sports can uniquely impact society, that this is an area where, for the next Michael Sam, they feel that much more comfortable coming out" (N.Y. POST, 2/24). Silver said he is "happy for Jason to have found a fit" with the Nets. But he added, "I'm cautious about celebrating it too much because where sports has led in so many ways, this is one of the places where we've trailed. This should have happened long ago" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/24).
TALK OF THE TOWN: YAHOO SPORTS' Marc Spears writes perhaps the "toughest challenge" of Collins' first day back in the NBA was "dealing with the media." Local, national and international media prior to last night's Nets-Lakers game "filled an interview room to capacity." One Nets beat writer said that the "media horde reminded him of a press conference" for suspended Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez. Collins "figures the media fascination will die down quick." Collins: "It's not going to be like this every single day. The news cycle that we have, this story, there are only so many questions (the media) can ask" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/24). In L.A., Ben Bolch writes there was "a minor media frenzy for the game." A Lakers spokesperson said that the team "issued 40 to 50 extra credentials" (L.A. TIMES, 2/24).
HISTORIC OCCASION: In N.Y., Andrew Keh writes Collins' signing "represents a significant step toward transforming North American professional sports into a more welcoming environment for gay athletes." Collins playing last night "represented a milestone in the effort to change a sports culture that some feel has lagged far behind society at large in acceptance of gay people" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/24). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes Collins playing for the Nets "is a big deal." Gay: "Don't let anyone pooh-pooh its big deal-ness" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/24). USA TODAY's Sam Amick writes, "In this world of men's professional sports that has been so behind the times on this issue, this was nothing short of momentous. And Brooklyn's part in it -- both as a team and as a city -- can't be overstated" (USA TODAY, 2/24). In Illinois, Mike Imrem writes, "Much was made the past two weeks of anti-gay legislation being passed recently in Russia. The irony? Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov owns the Nets" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 2/24).
A STEP TOWARD IT BEING NO BIG DEAL: On Long Island, Roderick Boone writes Collins' signing "evoked positive emotions" from Warriors President & COO Rick Welts, who announced he is gay three years ago. However, Welts "can't wait for the day when there's no hoopla surrounding a gay male athlete." He said, "It's a big step toward being regarded as totally unremarkable, which is exactly what it should be and what I would wish for. It's a big deal ... But really it's a big step toward nobody caring, you know?" (NEWSDAY, 2/24). Boone said, “At some point, something like this will kind of be old hat. People won’t even make a big deal about it" (“NBA Gametime,” NBA TV, 2/23). In N.Y., Mike Lupica writes, "Someday this will all happen in sports without gay athletes having to make announcements, or tacitly asking for our approval. Someday gay athletes will be able to go about their business in America without coming out of the closet, and feeling obligated ... to slam the door behind them" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/24). SI.com's Chris Mannix wrote, "Someday, we will look back and wonder what the big deal was" (SI.com, 2/23). Also in N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes under the header, "Collins' Deal Noteworthy, But One Day It Won't Be" (N.Y. POST, 2/24). In Chicago, Rick Telander writes under the header, "A Basketball Decision -- That's All The Jason Collins Signing Should Be" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/24).
After a record-setting rain delay yesterday of around 6 hours and 22 minutes had turned Daytona Int'l Speedway into the "world's most expansive parking lot," Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500 for the first time in a decade, and NASCAR's "favorite son once again had his moment in the sun," according to Cary Estes of SI.com. This was "probably the most popular victory in NASCAR since Earnhardt's father won his first and only Daytona 500" in '98. Earnhardt "winless ways had not decreased his popularity" after winning just two Sprint Cup races since the beginning of '07, but it "did seem like Earnhardt's slump was taking the sport down with him." Fans have been "steadily abandoning NASCAR since it hit a popularity peak" around '05, and what the sport "desperately needed was to see Earnhardt win in a big way on a grand stage." Runner-up Denny Hamlin said, "It's big for a lot of reasons. It's obviously very significant anytime (an) Earnhardt wins at Daytona." Team owner Rick Hendrick said, "It's good for NASCAR. It's good for all of us." Estes notes other tracks on NASCAR's circuit already are "seeking to benefit from Earnhardt's victory." Talladega Superspeedway moments after last night's race was over sent out an e-mail "promoting its race in May that stated, 'Congratulations Dale Jr.!! Cheer Dale Jr. to the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway! Two Tickets For $88'" (SI.com, 2/24). In Jacksonville, Don Coble writes fans who "sat through the longest single-day rain delay in NASCAR history were rewarded in a dramatic finish that saw Earnhardt keep his No. 88 Chevrolet ahead of several multi-car crashes in the final 100 laps" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 2/24).
SETTING THE PACE: In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes NASCAR "could not have had a better start" to the '14 season. With "late pushes" from teammates Johnson and Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt "clung to the front and won the thrilling, thrilling, and bizarre, bizarre, race." Sorensen: "The almost-24 Hours at Daytona ended with by far the sport’s most popular driver winning what it is by far the sport’s biggest race" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/24). In K.C., Randy Covitz writes Earnhardt "couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to win his second Daytona 500." The win "virtually guarantees Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most popular driver for the last 11 years, a spot in the expanded 16-driver field in the revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs at the end of the season." Earnhardt asked, "Am I in the Chase? We don’t have to worry about that now?” (K.C. STAR, 2/24). Earnhardt said, "If everyone is telling the truth, then I don’t got to worry (about making the Chase). But we’re going for the jugular this year" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/24).
CHANGING THINGS UP: USA TODAY's Jeff Gluck writes NASCAR's changes to the Chase format in some ways "are gimmicks." But sports are "supposed to be entertainment, so what's wrong with trying to make the competition more entertaining?" A one-race championship format "might be the most extreme yet -- although whether fans love it or hate it, they'll probably make sure to watch" (USA TODAY, 2/24).
MLB Exec VP/Baseball Operations Joe Torre has led briefings for 15 teams so far on the league's implementation of instant replay, with the rest to be completed this week, and the early reviews of the system are "strikingly positive," according to Paul White of USA TODAY. Torre said, "The reception from all the clubs has been very positive. That makes us happy." Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the plans, "Really well thought out. They thought about everything, or at least it seems that way." White notes the key to the system "is the command center" at MLBAM HQs in N.Y., which "already is operating." Sixty of the 70 umpires "who will rotate through as replay officials have been trained" as of now. Torre said that he "expects any challenge to take about a minute, maybe 90 seconds at the most." Mini command centers "are being set up in both clubhouses in every major league ballpark" and they "will have the same dedicated video feeds at the same time" as the N.Y. HQs. Teams "can designate whoever they want to watch from the clubhouse and, just like the crew" in N.Y., those people "will have the same ability to choose from every camera angle in the ballpark." The clubhouse rep "will have a phone line directly to the dugout to alert the manager about a potential challenge." Torre: "For a Fox game maybe there are going to be fewer cameras than for a Yankees-Red Sox game where, between NESN and YES, there might be 30 cameras." Torre said that MLB also "will provide cameras and crew for the very few games not televised by either team's rightsholders" (USA TODAY, 2/24).
OTHER EXECS WEIGH IN: In Denver, Troy Renck reported MLB officials "will hold multiple workshops this spring to help soothe concerns and explain the process" of instant replay. Teams are "facing a pair of salient issues: the time allotted for confirmation from a club employee and which employee will fill that role." A's manager Bob Melvin said, "I hear that we will have enough time, but we don't know." Several teams said that they "will use their video coordinators to challenge," while others suggested that they "will hire someone specifically for the job." Rockies Senior VP/Major League Operations & Assistant GM Bill Geivett said, "We will use somebody in-house. And what I do know is that it won't be the same person for all 162 games" (DENVER POST, 2/23). Maddon: "If I ask for anything, that it would be flexible. ... It needs to be a living kind of an organism right now until, in fact, you feel pretty good about it" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/23). Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, "It sounds as if the challenge process is going to be quick. ... It doesn't sound like it will take a lot of time." He added, "You aren't supposed to flagrantly delay the game if you are going to challenge. If you do, they can take your challenge away -- or you can get reprimanded" (DETROIT NEWS, 2/23).
MLB free agency "isn't completely free anymore," as several players remain unsigned because "no team has yet proved willing to surrender a draft pick to acquire" certain veterans, according to John Tomase of the BOSTON HERALD. MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark would "like to address that issue" when the CBA expires in '16. He said, "The way the free agent market has played itself out over the last couple of years suggests that draft pick compensation in the free agent market in general is a concern that we’re paying attention to. Obviously, we still have guys, very, very good players, quality players that can help a number of clubs, who are still on the market." Clark added, "I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interests, what’s happening right now, clubs or the players. But if it’s something that has to be addressed come 2016, then we’ll address it then" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/23). Clark said, "I don't see how it's beneficial to anyone when quality ballplayers are sitting at home that can have an impact on the field and in the clubhouse for any one particular team." He added that he has "some concerns about the qualifying offer process." Clark: "Sometimes those offseasons work well, sometimes they don't. In this instance, there seem to be other dynamics playing into it. That's why we're paying as much attention as we are" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 2/23).
CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN NFLPA? In Boston, Ben Volin noted former NFLer Sean Gilbert is "planning for a coup" against NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith in '15. Several agents said that Gilbert "spent the weekend in Indianapolis trying to recruit agents to side with him as he prepares to challenge Smith." One factor "working in Smith's favor is he has a strong ally" in agent Drew Rosenhaus, who reps "more than 100 active players" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/23).
PLAYERS SLACKING IN NBPA SEARCH? In Boston, Gary Washburn noted the NBPA still "has not chosen an executive director and those close to the situation are annoyed at the apathy of players given the apparent misdoings" of previous Exec Dir Billy Hunter. Taking "so long to choose a leader and the apparent disinterest of key players almost makes certain the players will be unprepared" when the next CBA comes up and the "owners potentially opt out" in '17 (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/23).
Reps for ESPN's Tim Tebow "have been approached" about him playing in the A-11 Football League, a "new spring, outdoor professional football league" that has been created and financed, according to Woody Paige of the DENVER POST. A franchise "most likely will be awarded soon to Denver," and the league has scheduled its inaugural championship game for July 4 weekend in '15. Before that happens, the A11FL "will stage two 'showcase' exhibitions this May and June at Raymond James Stadium and the Cotton Bowl between the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Dallas Wranglers." The league "announced four other franchises -- the New Jersey Generals, the Chicago Staggs, the LA Express and the Bay Area Sea Lions." A11FL teams "will play 14 regular-season games from March-June in 2015, and five will advance to the postseason." A11FL Commissioner Scott McKibben on Saturday said, "We will have eight teams next year. Today, the leading candidates for the remaining two franchises are the Denver Gold and the (Detroit) Michigan Panthers. ... We're an aspiration league. There are hundreds of quality players who aspire to play in the NFL, and we'll provide them with a chance to prove themselves. We'll be playing in major population and media markets in NFL stadiums, and we have the No. 1 sports network partner in ESPN" (DENVER POST, 2/23).