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Volume 24 No. 216

People and Pop Culture

Capitals LW ALEX OVECHKIN, who "may or may not be a witting font of Kremlin propaganda" in DC, this month announced the "creation of a 'civic movement' he has called '#putinteam,' a demonstration of support" for Russia President VLADIMIR PUTIN months before the country's election, according to a front-page piece by Matt Flegenheimer of the N.Y. TIMES. Ovechkin "insists the idea was his, unconnected to the Russian leader or his allies." Ovechkin: "Putin's Team is Putin's Team. It is just for people who support the country, and basically it's a simple thing." But Flegenheimer notes experts in Russian politics, where star athletes are "often deployed for popular cover, are exceedingly skeptical." News reports in Russia have "linked the campaign to a major public relations firm, which is said to have devised 'Putin Team' before securing the blessing of the president's orbit." And while Putin's electoral prospects are "hardly in doubt, the backing of prominent athletes is viewed as helpful in projecting mass popularity at home and abroad." U.S. officials said that they believe Ovechkin is "most likely being used for precisely this sort of hearts-and-minds campaign aimed at garnering good will" for Putin, whether or not Ovechkin is "particularly conscious of this." For U.S. fans, Ovechkin's embrace of Putin has "already proved uncomfortable, forcing some to reconcile their idol's support for a government seen as hostile to national interests" with Ovechkin's image as an "affable regional man-child." Ovechkin also suggested that his contact with Putin should "not be overstated, estimating that they had not spoken since the summer and clarifying that he did not have a cellphone number for the president." Ovechkin: "It would be nice, though" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/19).

Fox Sports promoted Exec Dir of Programming & Operations JODI VALBUENA to VP/Programming & Live Operations. She will be based in L.A. (THE DAILY)....IOC Exec Board Member C.KWU has "resigned as president of Olympic boxing's governing body AIBA while under investigation for unethical conduct." Wu was "suspended from duty last month while a complaint lodged by most members of his executive committee was investigated" (AP, 11/20)....Delaware State Univ. promoted Senior Associate AD/Internal Operations and Senior Woman Administrator MARY HILL to interim AD. The school "decided not to continue its relationship" with former AD LOUIS PERKINS who came to DSU in '15 (Delaware NEWS JOURNAL, 11/20)....South Carolina-based medical research company Blinktbi named former NFL Panthers President DANNY MORRISON to its advisory board (Blinktbi).

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Eighteen NCAA championship teams "arrived at the White House" on Friday to be "recognized by, and photographed with, PRESIDENT TRUMP." Each team "had its own space, and its own moment." The South Carolina women's basketball team "did not appear" and the North Carolina men's basketball team did not attend either, citing a "scheduling conflict" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/18). Utah ski coach ABI HOLT said that "not everyone on the team went to the White House" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 11/18). Holt: "Everyone was given the choice. It is a charged climate these days, so we didn't make the trip mandatory, and we didn't sit it out. We just let everyone choose for themselves" (DESERET NEWS, 11/18).

BACK IN THE GAMEEVANDER HOLYFIELD is "trying to make it as a boxing promoter." Holyfield’s company -- Real Deal Boxing -- held its fourth card Saturday night from Resorts World Casino in Queens. Fans were able to watch a "free live stream" on therealdealboxing.com. Real Deal Boxing COO ERIC BENTLEY said, "We’re just trying to build our brand and attract a larger audience. We want fans to see what we’re doing. This whole thing is in its infancy right now" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/19).

NAMES: Jets WR JEREMY KERLEY is "ending his son's football career." Kerley said of his 8-year-old boy, "He has the most moves and the most skills. ... So, he’s getting tackled a lot. But when you come home and your son says, ‘Dad, I got a headache a little bit.’ You’re like, ‘WTF. You’re too young to have headaches playing football. You’re done. Don’t worry about that’” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/19)....Broncos RB C.J. ANDERSON's "Dreams Never Die Foundation" launched on Thursday with "plans to transform an old recreation center in his hometown of Vallejo, Calif., into a community center for academic mentorship and athletic training for local youth." By '20, Anderson’s foundation "hopes to launch its academic and athletic programs to provide tutoring and college preparation, as well access to its training facility and guidance in NCAA scholarships and eligibility" (DENVER POST, 11/18).