National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

WNBA to target market LGBT community for fans

NEW YORK (AP) Amid a surge of public opinion in favor of gay rights in the U.S., the WNBA is launching a campaign to market the league to the LGBT community, becoming the first pro sports league to specifically recruit gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender fans to its games.

With the marketing campaign, the WNBA is capitalizing on what it has known for years: The community makes up a significant portion of its fan base. The difference now is that the league is talking about it publicly and making it a deliberate part of its marketing strategy.

The launch of the effort coincides with a surge of political and legal advances for the gay-rights movement in the U.S., and shifting public opinion behind many of those advances.

The campaign, which begins with the debut of a website Wednesday, includes having teams participate in local pride festivals and parades, working with advocacy groups to raise awareness of inclusion through grassroots events and advertising with lesbian media. A nationally televised pride game will take place between Tulsa and Chicago on Sunday, June 22. All 12 teams will also have some sort of pride initiative over the course of the season.

"For us it's a celebration of diversity and inclusion and recognition of an audience that has been with us very passionately," WNBA President Laurel Richie said.

It's taken the league 18 years to take the step, though it had discussions about the possibility previously. Teams have done some promotion locally, sponsoring booths at gay pride events and hosting groups at games.

"We embrace all our fans and it's a group that we know has been very, very supportive. I won't characterize it as `Why did it take so long?' For me it's been we've been doing a lot of terrific initiatives. The piece that's different this year is unifying it," Richie said.

Before launching the campaign, the league took a close look at its fan base. It commissioned a study in 2012 that found that 25 percent of lesbians watch the league's games on TV while 21 percent have attended a game.

Rick Welts, who was the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the NBA when the WNBA first started in 1997, said that when the league began executives figured the fan base would be a carryover from the NBA.

"We guessed very wrong on that," said Welts, who is the president and COO of the Golden State Warriors and became the highest-ranking executive in men's sports to publicly acknowledge he's gay in 2011. "Maybe we should have known better. I think from its outset, the WNBA attracted a fan with different interests than our profile of an NBA fan.

"I remember sitting in a few meetings where we had really interesting thoughtful discussions of: Should we be proactive marketing to the LGBT community? What does that say if we do? We certainly didn't want to position the league of being exclusionary to anyone. What were we saying if we did it more proactively? Society and sports culture is very different today than it was back then. Teams were trying to figure out the right thing to do."

Brittney Griner, who is one of a handful of WNBA athletes who have publicly identified themselves as lesbian, was happy the league was embracing the community. Griner, who was the No. 1 pick by the Phoenix Mercury in the draft in 2013, plans on wearing rainbow-colored shoes during the month of June in support of the initiative.

"We'll pave the way and show its fine and there's nothing wrong with it. More sports need to do it. It's 2014, it's about time," said Griner, who served as grand marshal of the Phoenix Pride parade last season.

The league's campaign comes after a wave of recent announcements from players who are identifying themselves publicly as gay. NBA player Jason Collins became the first player in men's professional basketball to come out and played with the Nets. Former Missouri football player Michael Sam, who came out in print and televised interviews earlier this year, was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams. And Derrick Gordon, a UMass basketball player, recently described his experience as a gay Division I player.

It also comes amid changes in the political and legal landscape. Just this week, federal judges in Pennsylvania and Oregon struck down state bans on gay marriage, extending a series of such rulings since December. If the latest rulings stand, there will be 19 states - with more than 43 percent of the U.S. population - that allow same-sex marriage.

That helps make the timing for the WNBA's decision right, said Robert Boland, academic chair of the sports management program at NYU's Tisch Center.

"This is a group where there is a natural affinity and marketing affinity," he said. "It's a recognition of where the world is today. I'd be shocked if there was any backlash."

Rebecca Lobo, who played in the league for six seasons and has been a broadcaster for the last decade, has seen a change from when the league began in 1997.

"It's culturally more acceptable now than it was when it first started," she said. "The league has been around for so many years they can do these sort of things without worrying about what some people might think."

It wasn't always that way.

"For a long time they were happy to have those lesbians fill those seats in the stands, but not willing for a long time to embrace the fan base," said Pat Griffin, professor emeritus in the social justice education program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "I attribute that to the homophobia, fear that somehow acknowledging the fan base would encourage other fans not to go to games. What they've learned is that the fan doesn't keep other people from going to games."

NASCAR's Scott, Elliott elected to Hall of Fame

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Wendell Scott earned a second NASCAR first on Wednesday: He became the first African-American driver to be elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The late driver from Virginia was among the latest group of five - all drivers, another first - voted in the hall on Wednesday. Scott joins popular NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, two-time series champ Joe Weatherly, 1960 champion Rex White and 26-time race winner Fred Lorenzen.

Scott competed in NASCAR's top series from 1961-73. He won his only race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1963, taking the checkered flag in the 100-mile feature after starting 15th. Scott started 495 Sprint Cup events and had a 147 top 10 finishes.

"I just felt like that his time was coming and he would say that too, one day it's going to happen," said Scott's son, Franklin.

When Scott's name was called there were enthusiastic shouts and applause from fans, officials and family members gathered at the NASCAR Hall of Fame rotunda. He was the second-leading vote getter behind Elliott from a 54-member panel, including current Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Scott, who died in 1990, was the first African-American driver to race fulltime in NASCAR's top series. He had won more than 100 races at local tracks before stepping up to race against NASCAR's best. Among Scott's legacy to the sport is the sport's Drive for Diversity initiative, one of the top youth development programs for multicultural and female drivers across the motorsports industry that's been in place since 2004.

"The next inductee gives me additional pride," NASCAR chairman Brian France said in introducing Scott, "Because he undoubted scaled and climbed the highest mountain."

Scott's story was loosely portrayed in the 1977 movie, "Greased Lightning," where Richard Pryor starred as Scott, the one-time taxi driver from Danville, Virginia.

"He said one day they are going to write a book about me," Franklin Scott said of his father. "He had great determination. He was a great ambassador for the sport."

Elliott was the 1988 Sprint Cup champion and his 44 race victories rank 16th in NASCAR history. The driver nicknamed "Awesome Bill From Dawsonville" was also the first to win the Winston Million bonus in 1985 for capturing three of NASCAR crown jewel races.

When Elliott's name was called, racer son Chase patted him on the shoulder.

"This is at the top of everything I've ever done and accomplished," he said. "This is the pinnacle."

Elliott said he was a bit surprised when he was called first and thanked those who helped him achieve what he had in racing.

"You look at all of the people to be nominated and you try to put things into perspective. And bam, you are the first name announced and it's like, holy mackerel what just happened," he said.

Modified champion Jerry Cook was sixth, car owner Robert Yates seventh and the late driver and announcer Benny Parson's eighth. The five inductees will be enshrined at ceremonies on January 30th.

Hall of Famer Richard Petty, among the voters, said there were few clear cut people on the list of 20.

"I had my thoughts and others had theirs, but nobody said `this' is the guy that needs to get in," Petty said. "That was different than past years."

Weatherly, who died in 1964, won 25 races in NASCAR's premiere series including those back-to-back championships in 1962 and 1963.

White raced from 1956-64, winning 28 times in 233 events including six races during his championship season in 1960.

Lorenzen started as a mechanic in NASCAR in 1960, but became a driver by the end of the year. He won the first three of his 26 races the next season. In 1963, Lorenzen had a stretch of dominance like few others when he won eight of 16 races entered. At one point, he led 1,679 of the possible 1,953 laps run.

Series matriarch Anne Bledsoe France was honored with the inaugural Landmark Award. She was the wife of NASCAR founding father, Bill France, and grandmother of current CEO and chairman Brian France. Anne B. France served as secretary and treasurer of NASCAR.

NFL headed for expanded playoffs in 2015

Giants owner John Mara broke into a wry smile when pressed on his opposition to expanding the NFL playoffs by two teams.

"Teams can go from 9-7 to the Super Bowl, as we've seen," said Mara, knowing full well his team did just that to win the 2011 title. "Can they do it from 7-9 or 8-8? I don't know. You tell me."

They might get the chance to try, because it is clear that the league is going to increase the number of playoff qualifiers to 14, almost certainly for the 2015 season.

Sure, the extra two spots could wind up going to teams like last season's Arizona Cardinals, who missed out at 10-6. But they also could fall into the laps of a .500 squad - Pittsburgh would have gotten the extra berth in the AFC if it existed in 2013. Or worse, a repeat of what Seattle achieved in 2010, albeit as a division winner, with a 7-9 record.

Commissioner Roger Goodell supports two more wild-card teams. So do most owners, although the league is proceeding cautiously by delaying until October an actual vote.

The TV partners will love the idea of more playoff games, and the prospect of playing both of the additional wild cards in prime time is a juicy one. Indeed, those games could wind up being on a broadcast outlet not yet affiliated with the NFL, such as Turner.

Given the records the NFL has been setting on television lately, from the regular season to the postseason to the draft, there's no reason to believe it won't receive the same $100 million for each additional playoff game ESPN is paying to get in on the party next January.

"I do believe it will be approved for the 2015 season," Goodell said. "We want to see how it will impact in a positive way from a competitive standpoint. Will it create more excitement, more races toward the end of the season? Who will ultimately qualify for the playoffs?"

The new setup won't put much more strain, if any, on the postseason schedule. It also would make having the best record in the conference even more valuable: Only that team will get a first-round bye.

Right there, Goodell's league could have plenty "more excitement" down the stretch.

With three wild-card games, the NFL could fill up the first weekend in January from early afternoon until midnight. Or, as Mara mentioned, one of the games figures to land on Monday night.

Goodell said the NFL wants to see how its concentration of games on Thursday night works out this year before proceeding with more playoff teams. That's understandable, but the main reason for delaying the inevitable is that the players' union has to sign off on the expansion.

Considering the added revenue that would accompany two more wild-card games, would the NFLPA really balk? Goodell said he spoke with union boss DeMaurice Smith two weeks ago and didn't get any pushback.

"This is something I've had numerous conversations with DeMaurice about," Goodell said. "I think there are a lot of benefits to the players, but that's something they'll have to evaluate. They are our partners, and I've said on many occasions before that we are going to have a dialogue with all of our partners to make sure it can be done the right way."

Goodell also noted that the players would receive 55 percent of the revenue generated by two more postseason games.

For NFL owners, the additional dollars also might eliminate their currently dormant proposal for an 18-game regular season, something the union says won't ever happen.

Meanwhile, Mara, a trusted adviser to Goodell and one of the league's most influential owners, appears to be leading a losing battle for the status quo.

"I just like it the way it is right now," he said of the playoff structure that has existed since 1990. "I think we're diluting it too much. It also creates other issues. You're going to play one of those games on a Monday night, and the prospect of doing that in January is not all that appealing.

"We had a great opening wild-card weekend this year and it seems like we have that every year, and I'm not sure what this is going to bring."

It will bring more money to the owners and players, more football for the fans, more eyeballs for the networks.

And it is coming.

Hoyer ready to take on Manziel for Browns' QB job

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Unlike most Clevelanders, Brian Hoyer didn't jump up and down or cheer when he heard the Browns drafted Johnny Manziel.

Hoyer shrugged and got ready to fight for his job.

"It was almost a sense of relief when he was drafted," he said, "because I knew exactly right then and there what it was going to be."

It's going to be a quarterback battle unlike anything Cleveland has seen before.

Hoyer, the hometown kid and incumbent starter, and Manziel - the college football superstar with the larger-than-life persona, catchy nickname and Heisman Trophy - were on the field together Wednesday, the second day of organized team activities.

With roughly 60 media members lining the fields and focused on the two QBs' every move, Hoyer and Manziel went through passing drills and took turns behind center in a competition expected to last several months.

Afterward, Hoyer said he and Manziel are developing a "working relationship" and joked the pair are getting along splendidly.

"I was thinking about sending him a birthday card," Hoyer quipped.

Hoyer, though, understands what under first-year coach Mike Pettine meant about the quarterback competition being somewhat heated.

"I totally get it," he said. "I don't think we're in there not being friendly. But when you're gunning for the same job, there is a little bit of an edge to it."

The Browns are expecting Manziel to challenge Hoyer, who is coming off right knee surgery. The team has made it clear that Hoyer is the starter and will remain so unless Manziel can beat him out.

This is nothing new to Hoyer, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament last season. Hoyer has been battling for a job since he joined the NFL, only this time he's the one that others are gunning for.

"It does feel different because as of right now I'm the top guy, and before I've always been coming from behind," Hoyer said. "My mentality has never really changed."

Manziel did not speak to reporters after practice, but several Browns players were asked about their famous new teammate, the scrambling magician known as Johnny Football. The former Texas A&M star fell in the first round before Cleveland traded up to take him with the No. 22 overall pick.

So far, Manziel has kept his head buried in his playbook.

"Johnny has done a good job of being a rookie, keeping his mouth shut," Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. "Rookies are supposed to be seen and not heard, which is what he's done."

Hoyer waited four seasons for his chance to start. After spending three years in New England as Tom Brady's backup, he made one start in Arizona before he bounced around and signed as a free agent with Cleveland last May.

Hoyer was prepared for the Browns to draft a quarterback. He never expected to be handed anything, and not once did he consider asking for a trade.

"No, never," he said. "I knew, even going back to last summer, that this was the place that I wanted to be, and it ended up working out and I got back here, and then I got a chance to play. This is my hometown. This is where my family's from. This is where I want to make a difference. I'll never shy away from competition, and it's something I had prepared myself for."

Hoyer and Manziel each had good moments during the nearly two-hour workout, which Pettine kept open to the media after limiting access for last week's rookie minicamp.

Hoyer, wearing a knee brace but moving without any problems, made the day's best pass, completing a long touchdown to wide receiver Conner Vernon.

Manziel's final pass got batted down, but he showed some of the moves that made him a household name.

Still, he's got work to do.

"It's just like any other rookie, that he's just inconsistent," Pettine said. "A lot of it's the mental part of it. He's more worrying about getting the formation right, making sure the motion's correct and he's got the cadence. Then he's got to worry about where guys are. Once all that stuff becomes second nature a little bit, he'll be a lot more comfortable.

"He flashed some things that made him kind of who he is, the ability to make plays on his feet."

NOTES: Pro Bowl WR Josh Gordon practiced as he awaits a possible league suspension. Gordon declined comment. ... WR Miles Austin said he called former Browns QB Bernie Kosar to ask for permission to wear No. 19. "I never wanted to step on anyone's toes," Austin said. "I thought it was the right thing to do." ... Pettine would not discuss injuries to several players, including starting DT Ahtyba Rubin, who was not on the field. ... OG Garrett Gilkey exchanged a few punches with rookie DT Calvin Barnett, whose helmet was ripped off during the fracas.

Mathis apologizes to teammates for suspension

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) NFL sacks champion Robert Mathis made one thing clear Wednesday: He's coming back this season as a motivated man.

In his first public comments since learning he would sit out the season's first four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy, Mathis was his usually blunt self after speaking to his Colts teammates.

"I told them I'm sorry, and I'll be back," Mathis said.

Last week, he explained in a statement that the substance, Clomid, was found in a fertility medication he was temporarily using. His wife is now pregnant.

But Clomid also can be used as a masking agent for other PED treatments, and Mathis acknowledged that the mistake he made was not checking with the NFL or the NFL Players Association to determine if the medicine could cause a positive drug test.

Some contend the explanation for making such a big jump in sacks, from eight in 2012 to a league-high 19 1/2 at age 32, can be linked to PEDs. Mathis denied any such connection in a statement late last week and his agent, Hadley Englehard, has repeatedly said Mathis' position change, from defensive end to outside linebacker, was the primary reason his numbers improved. Mathis first made the switch in 2012 and looked much more comfortable at his new position in 2013.

He reiterated that position Wednesday.

"Let them say what they may," Mathis said. "In my heart of hearts, I know what it is and what it is not."

Under league rules, the Pro Bowl linebacker will be allowed to participate in all offseason team activities, training camp and the preseason. He will be suspended without pay for the first four games and is not eligible to return to the Colts until Sept. 29.

Mathis did attempt to appeal the ruling, but Commissioner Roger Goodell did not show any leniency.

"It's been a long process. It ran its course and I accept its responsibility," Mathis said. "I was just following directions. I shouldn't have did it. It was banned."

Teammates, like defensive end Cory Redding and Andrew Luck, accepted Mathis' explanation.

"I didn't need to hear it because I know who he is, you know?" Redding said. "I have no doubt the kind of person, the kind of character, the kind of man he is. So I didn't need to hear it for my betterment."

Losing Mathis could be a huge blow for the Colts. He is the franchise's career sacks leader and last year set a single-season franchise record. The rest of the Colts combined for 22 1/2 sacks.

Indy does have options.

Bjoern Werner was the Colts' first-round draft pick in 2013. Though he made the same position switch as Mathis and contended with knee and ankle injuries throughout his rookie season, Werner appeared to be making solid progress over the final month.

The Colts also have outside linebacker Erik Walden, who they signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2013, and they selected college defensive end Jonathan Newsome in the fifth round of this year's draft - a player former Colts general manager Bill Polian compared to Mathis. Polian drafted Mathis.

Redding is convinced there's enough talent to make up for Mathis' absence.

"We have 53 men on the team, probably more than that because we're going to have walk-on guys and all that kind of stuff," Mathis said. "I'm pretty sure Robert has a backup. If he were to get hurt, sprain an ankle, bust a shoelace, next man has got to get in there, right? Next man has got to get in there and play ball, period."

It just won't be easy for the Colts or Mathis.

"From my understanding, it's all set in stone, so there's really nothing you can say about it that's going to change anything," Luck said. "I know we're not wasting our breath talking about it too much. We realize the circumstance. We realize we're going to be without our best player probably for the first four games, so guys are going to have to step up."

Obama salutes Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks

WASHINGTON (AP) President Barack Obama can appreciate a team overcoming long odds.

Welcoming the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks to the White House on Wednesday, Obama took note that some football analysts hadn't seen Seattle as a top-tier team. A die-hard fan of his hometown Chicago Bears, Obama nevertheless said he felt a certain kinship with the overachieving Seahawks.

"As a guy who was elected president named Barack Obama, I root for the underdog," the president joked.

The Seahawks clinched their first Super Bowl victory in the history of the franchise in February by beating the Denver Broncos 43-8.

The distinction for the team and by extension for the NFL came a day after a group of retired players accused the league in a lawsuit of turning a blind eye to the use of painkillers by teams that later led to serious complications.

Obama has expressed misgivings about the violence of the sport, saying in an interview with the New Yorker published early this year that if he had a son he would not let him play pro football. Next week, Obama will hold a White House meeting on concussions and sports safety at the White House that will include young athletes, professional athletes, parents, coaches and health experts.

In a nod to that controversy, Obama took note of Seahawks owner Paul Allen's charitable foundation that has donated millions of dollars to research traumatic brain injuries. "Obviously this is a concern of the NFL, but is also a concern of our troops," Obama said.

Obama singled out the team's outspoken cornerback, Richard Sherman, for being a role model to young people. Sherman was born in Compton, California, once a center of gang activity and a city that suffered from severely underperforming schools. Sherman however was a standout student who attended Stanford University on a scholarship.

"If he seems a little brash, it's because you've got to have attitude sometimes if you are going to overcome some of this adversity," Obama said.

He also recognized Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who many scouts believed would be too small to succeed in the NFL only to set a record for most wins in two first seasons by any quarterback.

"He also became only the second African-American quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl," Obama said. "And the best part about it is nobody commented on it, which tells you the progress that we've made, although we've got more progress to make."

George diagnosed with concussion after Game 2 hit

MIAMI (AP) The long break between games in the Eastern Conference finals could be welcomed by Indiana, after Pacers guard Paul George was diagnosed Wednesday with a concussion that will force him to complete several NBA-mandated procedures before he can return to the matchup against the Miami Heat.

The series, now tied at a game apiece, doesn't resume until Saturday night.

And what at first might have been looked at as an awkward break - three full days off until the next game day - is probably now welcomed by the Pacers. Indiana not only needs to get George cleared but also had starters Lance Stephenson, Roy Hibbert and David West all either limping or ailing in the final minutes of the Game 2 loss on Tuesday night.

George was hurt with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter of Miami's Game 2 victory. He stole the ball from Heat guard Dwyane Wade, but could not keep control and wound up tumbling face-first to the court. Wade, also going for the ball, struck the back of George's head with his left knee, then appeared to scrape the same area with his right leg as he also fell to the hardwood.

George remained down for a few moments, but played the remainder of the game. He revealed afterward that he "blacked out" on the play, something that the Pacers say was not relayed to their medical staff.

"George exhibited no symptoms of a concussion and, in response to questions from the Pacers' medical staff, he denied dizziness, nausea, and issues with his vision," the Pacers said Wednesday. "He was also active and aware of his surroundings. As a result, the Indiana medical staff did not suspect a concussion."

But after the "blacked out" comment, the Pacers evaluated George again Wednesday morning.

"This case illustrates that concussion evaluation is an ongoing process and manifestations of the injury may not always present immediately," said NBA Concussion Program Director Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, who will discuss George's return-to-participation process with the Pacers' team doctor before clearance is given for a return.

Miami evened the series with an 87-83 win, after LeBron James and Wade controlled the fourth quarter for the Heat. George made a 3-pointer to give Indiana a 73-69 lead on the possession immediately preceding the one where he got tangled with Wade. The Heat answered with a 13-2 run over the next 5 minutes, James scoring nine of those points and Wade getting the other four.

Just like that, the Heat grabbed the home-court edge in the series.

"They're a tough bunch," Heat forward Chris Bosh said of the Pacers. "Very good team and we're going to continue to challenge each other throughout the series. It's just now getting started. We have to take care of home court. First, we can really relax for a few days, and then get to it on Saturday."

Both teams were off on Wednesday.

"I just know I've got warriors behind me, and we're just going to take it to them," Stephenson said. "We've just got to take our time. It's a long series. We've just got to stay together."

The NBA's concussion policy states that once a player is diagnosed, he needs to be "held out of all activity until he is symptom-free at rest" and until neurological signs return to normal. George will have to go through tests of increasing exertion before he gets cleared.

"It's important to note that there is no timeframe to complete the protocol," the NBA's policy states. "Each injury and player is different and recovery time can vary in each case."

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he was told during the game that George was "good to go."

There were plenty of other aches and pains for Indiana to deal with. West appeared to get poked in an eye in the fourth quarter, Hibbert was flexing his left leg after a tumble in the final seconds, and Stephenson went down at midcourt after colliding with Wade on the game's final play, grabbing the area around his right knee.

Stephenson got up, took the game's last shot and then limped off without needing any on-court medical attention.

"It's never pretty basketball in the Eastern Conference," James said.

Will a Frenchman be crowned champion at Roland-Garros?

The day after Andy Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, I have to believe that someone, somewhere in Bourges, Rennes, or Clermont-Ferrand, turned to a friend and asked, “When is it going to be our turn again?”

He would have been thinking, of course, of the 30 years that have passed since a Frenchman last won at Roland Garros—that Frenchman being Cameroon native Yannick Noah, who stunned and delighted all of France, and much of the rest of the world, when he upset defending champion Mats Wilander in the French Open final of 1983.

Noah at the time was seeded No. 6, and had never been beyond the quarterfinals at a major tournament. He would never be ranked higher on the ATP computer than No. 3. But he had already demonstrated a proclivity that very few of his French peers, or successors, have shown: A zest for the big occasion. Had Noah been a basketball player—like his son Joakim, currently a star with the Chicago Bulls of the NBA—he would have wanted the ball in his hands with his team trailing by one and time quickly running out.

MORE: 2014 French Open TV and live stream coverage on NBC and Live Extra

But that’s not the French way in tennis. Not lately, at least.

Noah’s win at Roland Garros was seen by some as a fluke, one of those improbable, magic moments. But it was really no more mystifying than Murray’s triumph at Wimbledon. By the time Noah played that match, he’d accumulated an impressive 14-5 record in ATP finals. More to my point, Noah was a guy who liked the big moments, and one who was uncharacteristically—for a French tennis player—prepared to make the most of them.

Noah beat Wilander that sunny day in Paris by pursuing a bold, chip-and-charge strategy. Relying on a heavily sliced backhand (Noah is one of the few Grand Slam champions of the Open era who didn’t have a flat or topspin backhand to speak of), Noah attacked relentlessly and hurled himself all over the forecourt, spearing volleys that, among other dividends, forced Wilander to wilt under the pressure. The exceptional thing about all this is how utterly out-of-character it was for an Open-era French player to do such a thing.

Among all nations, France has succeeded in producing the most varied and appealing group of male players in the Open era. What they have not created since Noah ruled at Roland Garros, however, is a male Grand Slam champion. The closest they’ve come is runner-ups Cedric Pioline (Wimbledon, 1993; U.S. Open, 1997), Arnaud Clement (Australian Open, 2001), and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Australian Open, 2008).

Want to know one big difference between Noah and those Frenchmen? Their embrace of the big ask. Noah was 23-13 in tour finals, but Pioline was just 5-12, and Clement 4-7. Tsonga is an encouraging 10-9, but before you start doing cartwheels on the lawns of Versailles, keep in mind that Tsonga hasn’t won a single one of his titles on clay. In fact, he’s never even played a clay-court final.

Perhaps, in developing such an impressive fleet of stylistic individualists (think Fabrice Santoro, Sebastian Grosjean, Nicolas Escude), the French out-foxed themselves. Or perhaps it’s that the French players are so obsessed with flair, with “beautiful tennis” (or something that travels under a similar name), that coaches as well as budding pros consider it beneath them to spend all that time and effort only to become boring “grinders,” or “clay-court specialists.”

That’s too bad, given that grinding an be so conducive to success at Roland Garros.

Currently, the French have 13 men in the Top 100, and two who were recently in the Top 10 but have now fallen just outside it (Richard Gasquet and Tsonga, ranked Nos. 13 and 14, respectively). But unless you believe in miracles, as in Mahut d. Nadal, 70-68 in the fifth set, only four of them even come close to claiming contender status: Gasquet, Tsonga, No. 24 Gael Monfils, and No. 30 Gilles Simon.

Let’s consider them in reverse order:

Gilles Simon has been ranked as high as No. 6, and he’s won 11 titles. He’s extremely quick and seems capable of running all day—formidable assets on clay, especially when the conditions are slow. And at age 29, he should still have all the stamina and fitness he needs, given that he'll get a day of rest between matches.

But Simon is the quintessential Frenchman suffering from Garrosphobia; he's won just one match in his first four attempts at Stade Roland Garros. He’s improved some since then, but he has yet to get past the fourth round, and only one of his losses has been at the hands of Nadal, Roger Federer, or Novak Djokovic. If you can’t get past Victor Hanescu in the third round at your home major in your best year on the tour (2009), that may be telling.

Gael Monfils is an emotional guy as well as a spectacularly gifted player—a lot like Noah. The 27-year-old also been ranked as high as No. 7, but his modest count of five career singles titles is very un-Noah-like, and it raises a red flag.

In fact, Monfils is different from Noah in at least two ways that are germane to this inquiry. While both men were superb showmen, it often seems that Monfils loses sight of the goal in his desire to entertain and impress. As well, Monfils has less of the killer instinct that earned Noah so many final-round appearances—and wins.

Yet there’s still hope for Monfils, for he’s been able to step up at Roland Garros before. He made the fourth round in just his second try (2006), and he’s played two quarterfinals and a semifinal (all three were losses to Federer; no shame in that).

Monfils had an interesting tournament last year. He upset No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych in the first round, squeaked by talented Ernests Gulbis in four sets, and then lost yet another brutal five-setter to a resurgent Tommy Rebredo. His only bad loss at Roland Garros was to then-No. 92 Fabio Fognini, in 2010, but since then we’ve seen Fognini’s potential realized.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been entrenched in the middle level of the Top 10 for a few years now, although he’s slipped back to No. 14 at the moment. Tsonga’s game isn’t merely big, it can be huge. Yet it has never really translated well to red clay until lately—and even then, almost exclusively at Roland Garros. But it’s a bit of a bad-news, good-news joke.

Tsonga had four match points against Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the 2012 French Open, and he handled most of them well if not successfully before fizzling in five. Last year, he made it to the semifinals, where he was swept in three sets by David Ferrer. That was a tough situation, because they had to follow a real barnburner of a match, the Nadal vs. Djokovic five-set classic. Instead of a national celebration, the match seemed more like an afterthought. That was a tough blow for Tsonga, but perhaps he’ll be able to improve upon his record once again this year.

Richard Gasquet, like Tsonga, has 10 ATP titles. He’s been ranked No. 7, but he hasn’t played a tour event since Miami because of back pain. His status for the French Open remains questionable.

This mercurial shotmaker has a conspicuous case of Garrosphobia; despite his spectacular talent, it took him four trips to the tournament to secure his first win. That was in 2005, when Gasquet got on the scoreboard with a win over No. 142 Daniele Bracciali. Gasquet performed in fits and starts after that, although he’s made the fourth round in each of the past three years, no farther. In 2013, he lost a two-set lead to No. 10 seed Stan Wawrinka.

Whether he plays or not, Gasquet is unlikely to be much of a factor at Roland Garros. Nor is Simon, who’s been inconsistent. That leaves Monfils or Tsonga as the most logical successor to Noah, but the most likely outcome is that the French will have to wait a little longer to crown a fellow countryman at Roland Garros.

That’s not such a big deal; they still have a good 35, 36 years before they have to start worrying about being mistaken for the British.

Sacramento approves $477 million Kings NBA arena

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) Sacramento's City Council on Tuesday approved a financing plan for the Kings NBA franchise, clearing the way for construction on a $477 million downtown arena.

The council voted 7-2 on the package during a meeting that caps off the city's lengthy struggle to keep the team from moving to Seattle a year ago. Mayor Kevin Johnson declared "Long live the Kings" after the final vote, and the chamber erupted in cheers along with team owners.

"We had our backs against the wall, but we defied the odds. We made a comeback for the ages and in doing so, I feel like we unleashed the very best that Sacramento has to offer," said Johnson, a former three-time NBA All-Star who maintains strong connections to the league.

Under the 35-year deal, the city would be responsible for a $223 million subsidy, much of it financed through a parking revenue bond. The city would pay an estimated $21.9 million a year in debt service that would be paid through lease payments from the Kings and a projected increase in parking revenue.

The city also is transferring $32 million worth of land and allowing the team to operate six digital billboards.

In return, the Kings would contribute $254 million to construct the arena and develop surrounding land with a hotel, office tower and shopping.

Construction on the crown-shaped sports facility will break ground this summer and open in time for the 2016-17 season.

At the start of the council meeting, Kings President Chris Granger called it a historic day for the team and Sacramento region, saying the arena would serve as a hub for economic development. The project would bring 11,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs, he said.

"This is certainly bigger than basketball," Granger said. "But it doesn't just end there. At the very core, this project is about community."

The NBA had told the city that it must open the arena by 2017 or risk losing the Kings. Former Kings owners George, Joe and Gavin Maloof considered moving the team to Las Vegas, Anaheim and Virginia Beach, Virginia, until announcing an agreement that called for investor Chris Hansen to buy the team and move it to Seattle.

Johnson led the city in a fight to keep the Kings and got the City Council to approve a plan for a new arena. The Maloofs then sold the Kings to a group led by TIBCO Software Chairman Vivek Ranadive.

The council approved a financing plan that allows for construction on the new sports and entertainment complex to replace an aging shopping mall a few blocks from the Capitol. The Kings have played in Sacramento since 1985 and currently play in the 26-year-old Sleep Train Arena, in the city's north end.

Scott VandenBerg, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Sacramento and chairman of the board of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the council that the arena will support new and existing businesses by expanding tourism.

"Just the speculation that an entertainment and sports complex was going to be approved has already helped improve the health of our downtown core," VandenBerg said.

Council members who opposed the deal said that the project's economic benefits are overstated and fear the city isn't getting enough from a public subsidy. Councilman Darrell Fong said the arena adds too much debt.

"I know my vote won't stop this deal," Fong said. "Believe me, I hope I'm proven wrong."

A majority, however, hailed Tuesday as a pivotal moment for elevating the city's reputation.

"It's not just about a venue for entertainment and sports; it's about the type of life that people get to have when they choose to live in our region," said Councilwoman Angelique Ashby.

Critics unsuccessfully tried to block the city's subsidy with a petition drive that failed to qualify for the ballot. Opponents including Patrick Soluri, a Sacramento attorney, vowed to continue to fight.

"The mayor and City Council no longer represent the interests of ordinary citizens," Soluri told the council. "Cronyism is running rampant, subsidies for the super-wealthy are handed out at the expense of working-class people and basic municipal services."

Before the vote, the team sponsored a rally outside City Hall to show support for the project, drawing hundreds of fans, many of them dressed in purple, the team's color.

Ex-players say NFL teams gave pain pills 'like candy'

Former NFL lineman Jeremy Newberry says he often hobbled into the 49ers locker room using a walking boot and crutches, then lined up behind as many as two dozen teammates for treatment - in his case, a shot of the painkiller Toradol. Ten minutes later, he sprinted onto the field to play.

The toughness of pro football players is part of the league's image, but a lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of more than 600 former players contends it was abetted by team physicians and trainers across the NFL who routinely dispensed powerful narcotics and other controlled substances on game days to mask the pain.

Although painkillers have been discussed around NFL locker rooms for decades, plaintiffs in this suit give details about which drugs they say teams persuaded them to use and how even severe injuries were covered up temporarily.

Painkillers Percodan, Percocet and Vicodin, anti-inflammatories such as Toradol, and sleep aids such as Ambien were "handed out like candy at Halloween," according to lead attorney Steven Silverman. Sometimes, the lawsuit also charges, the drugs were given in combinations as "cocktails."

"The stuff works," Newberry, who played seven of his nine seasons in San Francisco before retiring in 2009, told The Associated Press in an interview. "It works like crazy. It really does."

But only for so long.

Newberry, now 38 and one of the eight plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, says that because of the drugs he took while playing, he suffers from kidney failure, high blood pressure and violent headaches. Others - including three members of the NFL champion 1985 Chicago Bears: quarterback Jim McMahon, Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent and offensive lineman Keith Van Horne - reported a range of debilitating effects, from chronic muscle and bone ailments to permanent nerve and organ damage.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in Atlanta for the league's spring meetings, said Tuesday that league attorneys had not yet studied the lawsuit.

Six of the named plaintiffs in the suit filed in federal court in San Francisco were also parties to the concussion-related class-action lawsuit less than a year ago. The NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle that case - without acknowledging it concealed the risks of concussions from former players. A federal judge has yet to approve the settlement, expressing concern the amount is too small.

"The difference is that the concussion case claimed the NFL knew or should have known," Silverman said. "We're saying this was intentional, putting profits ahead of players' health - and in violation of federal controlled substance laws, as well as state laws. You don't order hundreds of narcotic painkillers in their names without telling them."

Some of the players said they knew they were taking powerful drugs, but felt they would lose their jobs if they didn't take team officials' advice and use the substances to get back on the field quickly.

The lawsuit covers the years 1968-2008. Silverman said a number of clients reported teams had "tightened up" dispensing procedures since then, including one incident in which a player said a trainer waited until the team plane on a flight home was 10,000 feet in the air before handing over a narcotic "to avoid violating any state laws."

McMahon and Van Horne were among several players who said they were never told about broken bones and fed pills to mask the pain. Toradol, which players called a "full-body numb-er" and "the current game-day drug of choice of the NFL" was prevalent enough that Newberry described frequently seeing both teammates and opponents during warm-ups with blood spots on the buttocks of their pants - a telltale sign they'd taken a pre-game injection.

"There was a room set up near the locker room and you got in line," said Kyle Turley, who played for three NFL teams in an eight-year career. "Obviously, we were grown adults and we had a choice. But when a team doctor is saying this will take the pain away, you trust them.'

Newberry said he regrets that decision now, but never considered not taking the drugs during his career because he feared he'd be out of a job if he didn't play. After his retirement, a specialist who reviewed his medical records concluded the protein levels in his urine had been elevated - a precursor to kidney problems - for years. Newberry said he got blood work during a team-sponsored physical every year but was never told about any problems.

"They said, `You're good to go, you passed another one. You're cleared to play,"' he said.

Silverman said he planned to serve the NFL with the lawsuit within the next 120 days, after which the league has 30 days to respond. The case could be significantly delayed if there are similar filings and the lawsuits are eventually consolidated into a single class-action.

"We hope this gets to trial," Silverman said. "I could see a scenario where, if it were to go to discovery, there would be more doctors and trainers taking the Fifth (Amendment) than providing sworn testimony."

---

Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols in Washington, AP pro football writer Barry Wilner in Atlanta and sports writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.

Young fan hit with foul ball during Brewers-Braves

ATLANTA (AP) A boy was taken to an Atlanta hospital after being struck in the head with a foul ball during the seventh inning of the Braves' game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night.

Milwaukee leadoff hitter Carlos Gomez lined a pitch into the stands along the first-base line behind the Atlanta dugout. Pitcher Julio Teheran heard the child get hit and crouched down on the mound in obvious anguish. Gomez also looked toward the stands with concern. Someone in the Braves dugout threw a towel into the stands, but the boy did not appear to be bleeding.

The child was hustled up the aisle by medical personnel. The Braves said he was "conscious and talkative" while being treated at Turner Field, before he was transported to a hospital.

No other details were immediately released.

"The team and all of Braves Country have him in our thoughts and prayers," the team said in a statement.

Teheran was clearly shaken by the incident, though he bounced back to pitch a six-hitter. Atlanta beat the Brewers 5-0.

"That was scary for me," Teheran said. "I knew it hit somebody. It was a fast and hard. No one had a chance to get out of the way."

He sent his best wishes to the child.

"If anyone knows him, please let him know I hope he's fine," Teheran said.

James helps Heat beat Pacers 87-83 in Game 2

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) LeBron James scored six straight points to spark the decisive 12-2 run, and the Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers 87-83 on Tuesday night to leave the Eastern Conference finals tied at a game apiece.

James had 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. Dwyane Wade had 23 points, 13 in the first half when the Heat desperately needed them to stay close.

Game 3 is Saturday in Miami.

Lance Stephenson had 25 points for the Pacers, and Paul George scored 14.

Miami trailed 73-69 with 7:19 left. But James hit a 3-pointer, and then scored the first six points in the rally and the Heat defense gave up only eight points over the final five minutes.

Davis hits 3 homers as Orioles beat Pirates 9-2

PITTSBURGH (AP) Chris Davis hit three home runs, doubling his season total, and drove in five runs to lead the Baltimore Orioles to a 9-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.

Davis hit a two-run blast during a four-run fifth inning that put the Orioles ahead 6-1 then hit a solo shot in the seventh and two-run homer in the ninth. It was Davis' second career three-homer game - the other came on Aug. 24, 2012 against Toronto - and seventh multi-homer game.

After leading the major leagues and setting a franchise record with 53 homers last season, Davis hit three in his first 30 games.

Nelson Cruz also homered, following Davis' shot in the fifth, to give the Orioles their second set of back-to-back homers of the season. Adam Jones had two hits to extend his hitting streak to 14 games.

Miguel Gonzalez (2-3) pitched sixth innings for Baltimore.

Francisco Liriano (0-4) allowed six runs and nine hits in five innings for Pittsburgh.

Ike Davis homered for the Pirates, his second in 27 games since being acquired from the New York in a trade on April 18, in the seventh inning. Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen had two hits each.

The back-to-back home runs by Davis and Cruz keyed a four-run fifth inning that extended the Orioles' lead to 6-1. Jones hit a run-scoring double then scored on Davis' first homer. Cruz followed with his 13th.

In the fourth, J.J. Hardy hit an RBI single then Caleb Joseph put the Orioles ahead 2-1 by drawing a bases-loaded walk. Hardy had two hits.

McCutchen knocked in the game's first run with a single in the third.

NOTES: Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy threw 18 pitches in an extended spring training game Tuesday at Sarasota, Florida, the first time the organization's top prospect had faced hitters from another organization since undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last June. . Baltimore C Matt Wieters, on the disabled list with a strained right elbow, said he is feeling considerably better after having a platelet-rich plasma injection last week and should be activated long before the projected date of July 1. . Pirates LF Starling Marte returned to the lineup after a strained left hamstring forced him to leave the second game of Sunday's doubleheader against the Yankees at New York. . The two-game series concludes on Wednesday night with Baltimore RHP Chris Tillman (4-2, 3.34) facing Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez (0-2, 6.84).

Cavs continue lottery luck, get No. 1 pick again

NEW YORK (AP) The Cleveland Cavaliers' lottery luck just keeps going.

The Cavaliers continued their remarkable run Tuesday, winning the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft for the second straight year and third time in the last four. They moved up from the ninth spot, when they had just a 1.7 percent chance of winning the top selection.

"It seems surreal," Cavs vice chairman Jeff Cohen said. "This is three out of four years and we had a 1.7 percent chance of coming up with the first pick and we pulled it off again."

They drafted Kyrie Irving first in 2011 and will hope to do better with this win than last year, when they took Anthony Bennett, who had a forgettable rookie season.

Nick Gilbert, the son of Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, was on the podium for the previous two wins, but general manager David Griffin was there this time.

Griffin had a pin on his lapel from his late grandmother and was carrying one of Nick Gilbert's bowties, which was as lucky in his breast pocket as it was with Nick wearing it.

The Cavs can now choose among the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid of Kansas, Duke's Jabari Parker, or another player from what's considered a deep draft.

"This means everything," Cohen said. "This is the deepest draft arguably since LeBron (James) and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony came out."

The Cavs won that one, too, in 2003, when they picked James. But they have been lottery regulars since he bolted for Miami in 2010, and they want that to stop.

"Rebuilding is a process and we lost a player a number of years back that it was going (to take) some time. Quite frankly it's taken a little bit longer then we'd like, but we've been patient," Cohen said.

"I think now is the time we're going to reap the rewards of our patience."

The Milwaukee Bucks fell one spot to second and the Philadelphia 76ers will draft third. The Bucks had a 25 percent chance of winning after a league-worst 15-67 record, but the team with the best odds hasn't won since 2004.

The expected strength of the class led to speculation that teams were tanking in hopes of getting a high pick. But the Cavs had playoff expectations, hoping a strong season could make them attractive to James if he was interested in returning home as a free agent.

Nick Gilbert said last year he expected the Cavs to be done with the lottery, but they were right back in Times Square after a disappointing season that resulted in them firing Mike Brown after just one year and a 33-49 record in his second stint with the team. Another top selection surely will make Cleveland more attractive to prospective coaches.

The city of Cleveland may be on a 50-year championship drought, but sure does have this lottery thing figured out.

The 2011 win was also a stunner, when the Cavs moved up from the No. 8 spot with a pick they had acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers.

And by moving up this year, they hurt the Detroit Pistons, who started eighth but by falling back, had to trade the pick to Charlotte as part of a deal for Ben Gordon.

Orlando dropped a spot to fourth and also will have the No. 12 pick from Denver. Utah is No. 5 and the Lakers and Boston Celtics couldn't make the most of rare lottery appearances, with Los Angeles at No. 7 and Boston at No. 6.

The 76ers couldn't move up even with Hall of Famer Julius Erving representing them, but they will have two top-10 picks: their own and New Orleans' at No. 10 from last year's trade that sent Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans.

"If we had No. 3 alone, I would be a little disappointed and so would our group. But the fact that we also have the 10th pick, we may have done better than anyone else," Erving said. "We can get two players out of this draft or leverage those two picks."

Still, the big winners - again - were the Cavs.

Nick Gilbert was the hit of the 2011 lottery, his big glasses and bowtie charming viewers. This time it was Mallory Edens, the 18-year-old daughter of incoming Bucks co-owner Wes Edens. She gained thousands of Twitter followers after her brief on-camera interview.

But her Bucks pin wasn't lucky enough to end the run of back luck for the worst teams.

"I was really nervous, but I'm really happy we got the second pick," Mallory Edens said.

Things kept rolling for the Cavs, who duplicated the feat of Orlando, which went back-to-back at No. 1 in 1992-93. The latter win, after the Magic had gone 41-41 in Shaquille O'Neal's rookie season, caused the league to change the lottery to a weighted format that gave the worst teams the most chances.

The tanking talk has led to discussions to change it again, something Commissioner Adam Silver has said will be discussed this summer. But he has also said that if there was an ideal solution, the league would have implemented it by now.

The Cavs like it just as it is.

Pac-12 presidents back radical new NCAA model

Pac-12 university presidents have sent a letter to their colleagues at the other four major football conferences calling for sweeping changes to the NCAA model and autonomy for those leagues.

A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday night. It was sent last week to the other 53 university presidents from the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference.

Spurred in part by Northwestern football players' move to unionize, the Pac-12 presidents outlined a 10-point plan for reform that includes many proposals commissioners have been advocating for several years, including a stipend for athletes. The NCAA is working on a new governance structure that will allow the five wealthiest conferences to make some rules without the support of smaller Division I schools.

"We acknowledge the core objectives could prove to be expensive and controversial, but the risks of inaction or moving too slowly are far greater," the letter reads. "The time for tinkering with the rules and making small adjustments is over."

Arizona State President Michael Crow told the AP that his counterparts in the Pac-12 are not "happy with where things are going. We're not happy with the nature of the debate out there. And we felt like our voice is not well understood."

"We've been talking about the need for reform for a long time, and so in a sense our thinking has coalesced," Crow said. "There's just so much thinking going on relative to the NCAA. So we thought it was time to say, `Well, this is what we think the NCAA should be, and this is how we think it should work."'

The full list of proposals included in the letter are:

- Permit institutions to make scholarship awards up to the full cost of attendance.

- Provide reasonable ongoing medical or insurance assistance for student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury in competition or practice. Continue efforts to reduce the incidence of disabling injury.

- Guarantee scholarships for enough time to complete a bachelor's degree, provided that the student remains in good academic standing.

- Decrease the demands placed on the athlete in-season, correspondingly increase the time available for studies and campus life, by preventing the abuse of organized "voluntary" practices to circumvent the limit of 20 hours per week and more realistically assess the time away from campus and other commitments during the season.

- Similarly decrease time demands out of season by reducing out-of-season competition and practices, and by considering shorter seasons in specific sports.

- Further strengthen the Academic Progress Rate requirements for postseason play.

- Address the "one and done" phenomenon in men's basketball. If the NBA and its Players Association are unable to agree to raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men's basketball.

- Provide student-athletes a meaningful role in governance at the conference and NCAA levels.

- Adjust existing restrictions so that student-athletes preparing for the next stage of their careers are not unnecessarily deprived of the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals, but without professionalizing intercollegiate athletics.

- Liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.

Pac-12 presidents are asking for a response to the proposed reforms by June 4. Crow said the decision by Pac-12 presidents to send the letter was unanimous and the initial feedback from university presidents has been positive.

The plan comes after Northwestern University football players cast secret ballots April 25 on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes. The results of the vote will not be known for some time.

The full National Labor Relations Board has agreed to hear Northwestern's appeal of a regional director's March ruling that the players are university employees and thus can unionize. Ballots will remain impounded until that process is finished, and perhaps until after any court fight that might follow a decision.

Part of the idea behind the proposal by the Pac-12 presidents is to get ahead of the issue and meet some of the demands that have been raised by Northwestern players and other athletes without "professionalizing" college sports.

The letter states "it is clear from the recent statements of any number of individuals that, while they may share or view that labor unions are not the answer, the time has come for a meaningful response both to the student-athletes' grievances and the need to reassert the academic primacy of our mission."

Drew agrees to re-sign with Red Sox after wait

BOSTON (AP) The Boston Red Sox have agreed to re-sign Stephen Drew, six months after the shortstop had rejected a qualifying offer from the World Series champions to become a free agent.

Drew, who spent one season in Boston, turned down a $14.1 million offer from the Red Sox last year after helping the team capture their third title in 10 years.

The deal he accepted Tuesday, which is subject to his successfully passing a physical, has a $14 million salary. If he passes the physical and is added to the 40-man roster Wednesday, he would receive a pro-rated amount of $10,021,858.

"We have the ability, provided all things work out, we've added a very good player to improve this team," Boston manager John Farrell said Tuesday before the Red Sox hosted the Toronto Blue Jays.

"That's the thing Ben and ownership have repeatedly shown," he said, referring to general manager Ben Cherington, "when a need exists, they'll do whatever is capable and whatever is available to improve the team. Stephen's return to us could very well do that. It will add stability to the left side of the infield."

The 31-year-old may require a minor league stint before joining the Red Sox. Once he is ready, Drew will take over at shortstop and rookie Xander Bogaerts will be shifted to third base.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks was placed on the disabled list Saturday with a fractured right index finger.

"We had a chance to sit and talk with Xander," Farrell said. "He's aware of everything that's been talked about and reported, and just wanted to be a little bit ahead of things, as to what it might mean to his position going forward."

The move comes as the Red Sox have lost four straight games, their longest skid since dropping their final eight of the 2012 season.

Drew batted .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs in 124 games with Boston last season.

Dodgers teammates fight during Triple-A game

NEW YORK (AP) Los Angeles Dodgers minor league teammates Alex Guerrero and Miguel Olivo got into a fight Tuesday during a game with Triple-A Albuquerque.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he was disappointed to hear about the altercation, and the team is looking into it.

"It's something we don't condone and it's something that we don't think is constructive," Colletti said at Citi Field, where Los Angeles opened a three-game series against the New York Mets. "Obviously, people can have disagreements. That happens many times in many places. But when it gets beyond that level, I think it's over the line."

The Los Angeles Times reported that agent Scott Boras said Olivo bit off a part of Guerrero's ear.

Colletti said he doesn't think either player sustained an injury that would keep him from playing. The Dodgers released a statement saying the baseball operations department "is aware of the altercation and is conducting an investigation into the matter."

"I've talked to the coaches, I've talked to a lot of different people. They're still looking into it. So until we know exactly what happened and what precipitated what, don't have anything else really to add to it," Colletti said. "I'll talk to everybody that I think can help us understand what took place."

Guerrero, an infielder from Cuba, signed a $28 million, four-year deal with the Dodgers in October. He was beaten out for the starting second base job by Dee Gordon in spring training.

Olivo has displayed a hot temper on the field before, charging at Jose Reyes and missing with a wild punch during a dustup between the Marlins and Mets late in the 2007 season.

The 35-year-old catcher appeared in eight games for the Dodgers this month, marking his 13th season in the majors.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported the fight happened in the dugout during the eighth inning of Albuquerque's 7-4 loss to Salt Lake, briefly delaying the game, and both players were removed from the lineup soon afterward.

The Los Angeles Times reported the disagreement began with Olivo getting upset that Guerrero failed to tag out a runner after a throw from Olivo, according to Boras.

The 27-year-old Guerrero was hitting .368 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in the Pacific Coast League.

"We think offensively that he's very close. Defensively, he still needs repetition," Colletti said.

Guerrero was playing second base at Albuquerque, but the club recently started putting him at shortstop to develop some versatility.

"His bat is starting to come to life, and we need to be able to find playing time for him if we bring him to the big leagues, maybe at a variety of different positions," Colletti said.

"The way he's hit the last three weeks has obviously drawn attention to that. We've had good offensive performance from our infielders here, so it's not an easy breakthrough right now, but the more versatility he has, the better opportunity he'll have to play."

Silver: NBA right in plans to force Sterling out

NEW YORK (AP) Adam Silver still gets choked up thinking about Kevin Durant's emotional speech at his MVP press conference.

And when the NBA commissioner contrasts Durant's address with Donald Sterling's racist remarks, he believes the league is right in trying to force Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers.

"I think Kevin Durant as our Most Valuable Player embodies what this league is all about, and frankly Mr. Sterling doesn't," Silver said Tuesday before the draft lottery.

The NBA charged Sterling on Monday with damaging the league and its marketing partners, and is planning a June 3 hearing after which owners could vote to force him to sell the franchise he has owned since 1981.

Silver already banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million, but wants owners to force the sale, even though he realizes there may be obstacles.

"This is an unprecedented proceeding. Will there be bumps in the road? Presumably yes," Silver said. "Mr. Sterling, on one hand, at least in his CNN interview, indicated a willingness to accept the judgment of his owner partners. His lawyers are saying otherwise, so we'll see.

"But this will all get worked out. I know we're pursuing the right course here and doing the right thing."

Silver said Sterling's remarks, which were recorded and surfaced on TMZ's website late last month early in playoffs, caused anger and sadness in a league in which most players are black.

Silver acted quickly with his punishment of Sterling and owners have followed, the 10-member advisory/finance committee meeting weekly since.

Sterling has until next Tuesday to respond and can appear at the hearing in New York front of owners. It will take three-quarters of them to terminate Sterling's ownership, and the league says also that of his estranged wife, Shelly.

Donald Sterling's attorney asked for a three-month delay, which the league rejected. Shelly Sterling's lawyer has said she is entitled to keep her 50 percent of the franchise even if her husband has to surrender his, so one or more legal fights could be necessary.

Silver said he would prefer if Donald Sterling chose to sell the team on his own, but the process to take it is already well underway.

"At least within the boundaries of my authority, I feel an obligation to protect the people who are within this league, and so that's my reaction," Silver said.

Minneapolis awarded 2018 Super Bowl

ATLANTA (AP) Build it and the Super Bowl will come.

That message rang loud and clear Tuesday when Minneapolis was awarded the 2018 game after a vote by owners rewarded the city for its new stadium deal.

The owners chose Minneapolis and the $1 billion stadium planned for the site of the old Metrodome to host the championship over New Orleans and Indianapolis.

"In large part, it was due to recognition of the great work they've done on the stadium," Commissioner Roger Goodell noted.

"It's been 10 years and we've always been driving to build a stadium," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said. "We can rejoice right now for being rewarded this, but the hard work comes now."

New Orleans bid committee members were certain the new Minneapolis stadium, set to open in 2016, swung the vote. The stadium will hold up to 72,000 for the Super Bowl.

"The new stadium was absolutely the deciding factor," Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation President Jay Cicero said. "Any time that there is so much public support for a $1 billion stadium, the NFL owners are impressed.

"We did everything we were supposed to do, had a fantastic presentation. In the end we think the stadium did it."

The big game will be staged in the Twin Cities for the second time. It was there in 1992, when Washington beat Buffalo.

It will be there in 2018 because the Vikings lobbied for years to replace the aging Metrodome, one of the NFL's least profitable facilities. When Minnesota political leaders realized the team could move out of state without a new home, the stadium project moved forward. Legislators in 2012 approved the stadium, with taxpayers carrying about 56 percent of the freight.

Owners needed four ballots to choose Minneapolis, with Indianapolis the first city eliminated. Indy was praised for a highly successful 2012 Super Bowl, but could have been hurt by the recent legal troubles of Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Irsay underwent treatment after he was arrested and accused of having $29,000 in cash and bottles of prescription drugs in his car. He made his first public appearance at these meetings since the arrest.

Irsay said Indianapolis will bid again.

"Before, we had to lose one to get one," he said, noting Indy fell short in previous bids before landing the 2012 game. "It will take persistence and we know we have the type of people who will be that."

New Orleans was considered the favorite and has staged the Super Bowl 10 times, tied with South Florida for the most. Its bid might have been damaged by the blackout that interrupted the 2013 title game.

Next year's game is in Glendale, Arizona, followed by Santa Clara, California, for the 50th Super Bowl, then Houston.

Earlier at their spring meetings, NFL owners tabled any vote expanding the playoffs to 14 teams.

There is strong sentiment among the owners to add a wild-card team in each conference to the postseason, most likely beginning in 2015. Under such a setup only the team with the best record in each conference will get a week off at the beginning of the playoffs.

Goodell said it will be discussed again in October.

"I do believe it will be approved for the 2015 season," he said.

New York Giants owner John Mara is against adding more playoff teams.

"I don't think it's a sure thing at all," Mara said. "It's probably more likely than not, but nothing is set in stone. There was no straw poll taken. ... I think it's good the way we have it."

The players' union says it needs to be consulted on an expanded postseason, and Goodell said he spoke with NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith two weeks ago about it.

Also Tuesday:

-A committee examining the time, length and site of the draft reported to the owners. The NFL will consider whether to keep it in May. It drew record TV ratings this year after it was moved back two weeks from its usual late April slot. It also will look into adding a fourth day and moving it from its traditional spot in New York to a variety of NFL cities, with a dozen already having expressed interest;

"If I was king of the world, I'd put it right back where it was," Mara said, referring to the April dates.

-Goodell said that had HGH testing been implemented, 104 other cases under the league's drug policy would have been heard by an independent arbitrator, with 21 players being referred to the first level of the drug program rather than being suspended. The NFL and players' union agreed to HGH testing in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, but the union first balked at the procedures for testing, then at Goodell having the final say on appeals.

The NFLPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

-New director of football operations Troy Vincent hired three advisers, including Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary. Vincent, a former All-Pro defensive back, also hired former NFL player and coach Jimmy Raye and former player and general manager Mike Reinfeldt.

Among other chores, the three new hires will serve as liaisons to league coaches and front-office personnel.

Florida State players meet with disciplinary board

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State football players Chris Casher and Ronald Darby have met with a university discipline board after being charged with violations of the school's Code of Conduct.

The two faced charges Tuesday after they told police they witnessed sex between quarterback Jameis Winston and a woman who accused him of raping her in December 2012. Casher told police that he video-taped a portion of the incident, but deleted the footage.

Winston's accuser testified at the hearing.

The conduct board has 10 days to make a recommendation to the Dean of Students.

Casher made a statement, apologizing to the accuser and said, "I honestly did not believe that any of us had broken the law or done anything wrong."

Winston was not called to testify Tuesday and was never charged with a crime.

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