Cubs

Check out some of the Saints' bounty testimony

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Check out some of the Saints' bounty testimony

From Comcast SportsNetFormer New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified that he tried to shut down the team's bounty system when the NFL began investigating but was overruled by interim Saints head coach Joe Vitt, according to transcripts from appeals hearings obtained by The Associated Press.According to the transcripts, Williams said that then-assistant Vitt responded to a suggestion that the pay-for-pain setup be abandoned with an obscenity-filled speech about how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "wasn't going to ... tell us to ... stop doing what won us the Super Bowl. This has been going on in the ... National Football League forever, and it will go on here forever, when they run (me) out of there, it will still go on."Williams and Vitt were among a number of witnesses whose testimony was heard by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who on Tuesday overturned four player suspensions in the case. Tagliabue was appointed by Goodell to handle the final round of appeals. The AP obtained transcripts of Tagliabue's closed-door hearings through a person with a role in the case.Vitt was a Saints assistant who was banned for six games for his part in the scandal but now is filling in for head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire season. Williams was suspended indefinitely by Goodell. Others who testified included former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, the initial whistleblower and considered a key NFL witness.Transcripts portray the former coaching colleagues, all part of the Saints' 2010 Super Bowl championship, as bitterly disagreeing with one another and occasionally contradicting how the NFL depicted the bounty system.Vitt, Williams and Cerullo appeared separately before Tagliabue and were questioned by lawyers for the NFL and lawyers representing the players originally suspended by Goodell: Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.Tagliabue's ruling found that "Saints' coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL's investigation. ..."The transcripts, which could be entered as evidence in Vilma's pending defamation case against Goodell, include numerous testy, and sometimes humorous, exchanges between witnesses and attorneys -- and between Tagliabue and the attorneys.Offering to take a lie detector test, Vitt challenged versions given by Williams and Cerullo. Vitt vowed to sue Cerullo and described Williams as "narcissistic." He referred to both as disgruntled former employees who were fired, even though, publicly, the Saints said Williams' departure for St. Louis was by mutual agreement. Vitt depicted Cerullo as incompetent and said he missed work numerous times and offered bizarre, fabricated excuses for his absences.Vitt was asked whether he oversaw Cerullo's attempts to destroy evidence related to bounties, which the NFL determined the Saints sanctioned from 2009 to 2011, with thousands of dollars offered for hits that injured opponents and knocked them out of games."No. The answer is no," Vitt said. "Cerullo is an idiot."Williams referred to the case as "somewhat of a witch hunt." He said he wants to coach in the NFL again, "took responsibility so that nobody else had to," and that Vilma has "been made a scapegoat."Williams stood by his earlier sworn statement that Vilma pledged a 10,000 bounty on quarterback Brett Favre in the Saints' game against the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC championship. But Williams also said that the performance pool he ran was aimed at team bonding, not bounties, and that he saw a difference between asking players to hit hard legally, which he said he did, and asking them to purposely injure an opponent, which he said no one in the organization condoned."The game is about a mental toughness on top of a physical toughness," Williams testified at one point. "You know, it's not golf."Williams, however, acknowledged he suggested Favre should be knocked out of the game."We want to play tough, hard-nosed football and look to get ready to play against the next guy. ... Brett is a friend of mine, and so that's just part of this business," Williams said. "You know, at no time, you know, are we looking to try to end anybody's career."Williams described player pledges to the pool as "nominal" and said they rarely kept the money they earned, either putting it back in the pool or offering it as tips to equipment personnel. In the case of the large amounts pledged during the playoffs, Williams described it as "air" or "funny money" or "banter," adding that he never actually saw any cash collected or distributed and had no idea what would have happened to the money if Cerullo collected it.Cerullo testified that league investigators misrepresented what he told them, and that, during the playoffs following the 2009 regular season, he kept track of large playoff pledges on note pads but didn't collect the money.Cerullo said hits for cash started with Williams telling the staff that "Sean kind of put him in charge of bringing back a swagger to the defense ... so he wanted to brainstorm with us as coaches what we thought we could do. ... At one point in one of those meetings, Joe Vitt suggested (his previous teams) had a pay-for-play, pay-for-incentive program that the guys kind of bought into and kind of had fun with, and, you know, that was his suggestion. At that point, Gregg also admitted that other places he was at, they had the same type of thing. And at that point, Gregg kind of ran with it."Cerullo described pregame meetings during the playoffs, when the Saints faced quarterback Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals and then Favre.He said Vitt told players Warner "should have been retired" and "we're going to end the career tomorrow of Kurt Warner." Cerullo also quoted Vitt as saying of Favre: "That old man should have retired when I was there. Is he retiring, isn't he retiring -- that whole (thing) is over, you know, tomorrow. ... We'll end the career tomorrow. We'll force him to retire. ..."Cerullo testified that, once word came that the NFL was investigating, Williams told him to delete computer files about bounty amounts and that Vitt checked on his progress.Asked what motivated him to come forward as a whistleblower with an email to the league in November 2011, Cerullo replied: "I was angry for being let go from the Saints."Later, he testified: "I was angry at Joe Vitt, and I wanted to show that I was fired for lying and I witnessed Joe Vitt lying and he still had a job. So, that was my goal of reaching out to the NFL."The transcripts also portray Tagliabue's command of the proceedings, including his efforts to rein in the lawyers."I'm going to intervene much more significantly, going forward," Tagliabue interjected at one point, "because I am extremely concerned that this is getting to be cumulative, confusing and useless, and I do not preside over proceedings that are cumulative, confusing and useless."There also were lighter moments, such as when Tagliabue announced: "I thought I was going to get through this proceeding only by drinking coffee. I'm getting to the point where I need a Bloody Mary."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

High School Lites had five matchups between top-25 teams on Friday night as the Public League Playoff semifinals and big matchups in the CSL South, Catholic League Blue and SouthWest Suburban Blue took shape.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Palatine's Eduardo Orozco

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Maine West girls basketball

Highlights

No. 1 Simeon holds off No. 4 Whitney Young

No. 2 Orr gets revenge on No. 3 Curie

No. 9 New Trier takes down No. 6 Evanston

No. 8 Fenwick handles No. 10 Loyola Academy

No. 23 Homewood-Flossmoor rallies past No. 18 Bolingbrook

Oswego East upsets No. 20 Joliet Central

Andrew shuts down Thornridge

Sandburg tops Lockport in OT

Richards runs by Shepard

Maine West captures second straight girls basketball regional title