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Athletes from college to pro offer help in Newtown

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Athletes from college to pro offer help in Newtown

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) Newtown first-grader Katelyn Sullivan has been sleeping in her parents' bed since last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

Katelyn, who attends another school in town, knew seven of the victims. They were in her Sunday school or dance class, or just friends. But on this day, the 6-year-old wasn't thinking about bad men or death. She was meeting soccer stars such as Mia Hamm and Landon Donovan, and kicking a ball around the field at the Newtown Youth Academy, a nonprofit sports center.

``The best part was probably playing soccer,'' she said. ``I was playing with professional players, but I don't know who they were.''

She just shrugged when her parents mentioned that one was Alexi Lalas, the retired star of the U.S. national team.

Since the tragedy, Katelyn and her two older brothers also have met members of the Harlem Globetrotters and the UConn men's basketball team. Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries picked Katelyn up at one event to help her dunk a basketball.

But what mattered to her parents was their children were having fun.

``It's just been huge,'' said Joe Sullivan, Katelyn's father. ``It's a pick-me-up for the community and the kids to get back to a little bit of a sense of normalcy and to kind of take their minds off of everything that has happened.''

The sports world began responding shortly after the 20 children and six adults were killed inside the school Dec. 14.

New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz came to play tag football and video games with the family and friends of victim Jack Pinto, after learning the 6-year-old shooting victim was to be buried in a replica of Cruz's jersey. The Giants later hosted families from Sandy Hook at a game.

``I didn't want to go in there and make a speech,'' Cruz said. ``I just wanted to go and spend some time with them and be someone they could talk to, and be someone they can vent to, talk about how much of a fan they are of the team, or different times they watched the Super Bowl.''

Later in the month, NBA and NHL stars helped lead a series of clinics and games for Newtown children at the Chelsea Piers sports center in nearby Stamford. Pro Lacrosse players did the same in Newtown.

And college hockey players from the University of New Haven came to help staff the center when it opened its doors to Newtown children to come in and play.

The media has been barred from most of the events.

``We made sure everyone understood that if they were coming, they had to be playing with the kids,'' said Kaki Taylor, who helped organize the events at the youth academy. ``This isn't a public relations opportunity. It's about the kids. Everyone has been great about that.''

Gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman visited the center and a local gymnastics school, where one little girl told her it was the best day of her life.

``A lot of the kids who died were young gymnasts, so I felt like I had connection to them,'' Raisman said. ``It was such an easy thing to do to go and hang out with them. It made me feel really good to do something for them.''

Peter D'Amico, who owns the youth center, said he's taken calls from pro and college teams from all over. Some have offered free equipment, others want to invite the kids to games, still others want to come to town to hold events such as last week's MLS-sponsored Soccer Day in Newtown. The evening of autographs and games included 40 players and more than 1,000 kids.

Many others have sent money.

The Orange Bowl Committee, host of the BCS Championship, donated $80,120 to a scholarship fund for Sandy Hook children being set up by the University of Connecticut.

The New England Patriots donated $25,000 to the town. Patriots owner Robert Kraft's family also owns a corrugated box plant in Newtown.

``What we are trying to ensure is this doesn't end in a couple of weeks,'' D'Amico said. ``The Yankees, Mets and Red Sox might be doing something this summer with the Little League. The Patriots are talking about something next football season.''

Nathan Grube, the director of the PGA Tour's Connecticut stop, the Travelers Championship, said they are keeping that message in mind and are making plans to do something during the tournament in June. Officials at Madison Square Garden say they are planning something big that will be announced in the near future.

Hamm, the retired soccer star, said nobody in the sports world is under an illusion that they can make all the pain and suffering go away. But athletes remember what it was like to be a young child and have a sports hero, she said. If they can show the kids that their heroes care about them, well, that might just be a little something.

``If you're a kid, you shouldn't have to be thinking about these things,'' Lalas said. ``You should be having fun. You should be kicking me in the shins and trying to put the ball through my legs and making fun of my hair. Making them smile, that's what this is all about.''

Dr. Marian Moca, a child psychiatrist at the UConn Health Center, said what the athletes are doing is important, and creates a sense of caring, support and safety the kids need at this time.

``They also play an important role as role models for these kids,'' he said, ``and are teaching them empathy and altruism, which I think is important too.''

UConn basketball coach Kevin Ollie said it's not just the kids who benefit.

``They are inspiring us in the way they are overcoming this,'' he said. ``It's been a blessing and a privilege for me. It's a life lesson for us too.''

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AP sports writers Nancy Armour, Tom Canavan and Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

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Kyle Shanahan admits he knew Kirk Cousins was leaving Washington after the 2017 season

Kyle Shanahan admits he knew Kirk Cousins was leaving Washington after the 2017 season

Kyle Shanahan has never hidden the admiration he has for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

The two worked together for two seasons with the Redskins in 2012 and 2013, when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and Cousins was the backup to Robert Griffin III.

In his third year as the San Francisco 49ers head coach, Shanahan's squad is facing the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, led by third-year quarterback and reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes. Shanahan had the opportunity to draft Mahomes in 2017, his first draft as the helm in San Francisco.

So, why did Shanahan pass on Mahomes? Enter Cousins.

"It's pretty well documented the relationship I had with Kirk," Shanahan said. "Just being in Washington and everything, I felt confident he wasn't going to stay there."

It was expected that Shanahan's 49ers would be making a run at signing Cousins the following offseason before they traded for Jimmy Garoppolo at the 2017 trade deadline. Garoppolo won all five of his starts in 2017, and the 49ers signed him to a five-year extension the following offseason.

Cousins, who spent his final two years in Washington playing under the franchise tag, departed from the nation's capital to Minnesota, where he signed a three-year, $84 million fully-guaranteed deal with the Vikings.

"Any time you go into a season and know a franchise quarterback is going to be available the next year, it made me a lot more picky with what we were looking at," Shanahan said.

The 49ers decided to trade back with the Chicago Bears (who traded up to No. 2 to select UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky), and San Francisco ended up selecting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. San Francisco took Iowa signal-caller C.J. Beathard in the third round, and he competed with veteran Brian Hoyer for the 49ers starting job in 2017. 

Shanahan expanded on his decision to pass on Mahomes, emphasizing the difficulty in scouting college quarterbacks in certain systems. Mahomes' system under Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech was named the "Air Raid' due to the high-volume of passes. 

"There were a bunch of talented guys in that draft," Shanahan said. "But it's very tough when you watch college systems and stuff, you don't really know until you get somebody in the building.

"You can see ability. You can see talent," he continued. "But how's the mind? How's the play in the pocket? How do they process? That's not just an IQ score. That's stuff that I don't think you can totally test."

The 2017 draft wasn't just Shanahan's first with the 49ers, it was his first draft as a head coach, ever. Thomas was a highly-rated prospect and was a relatively safe pick.

Looking back, it makes sense that the rookie head coach did not want to take a risk on a rookie quarterback, especially if he felt the team had a good chance at landing Cousins, someone he was familiar with.

But San Francisco ended up sticking with Garoppolo, and now the 49ers are 60 minutes away from their sixth Super Bowl title.

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Ryan Zimmerman on electronic sign stealing: ‘It’s the greatest sin that you can do’

Ryan Zimmerman on electronic sign stealing: ‘It’s the greatest sin that you can do’

When the Nationals faced the Astros in the 2019 World Series, the public didn’t yet know Houston’s electronic sign-stealing scheme helped propel the club to its first championship just two years prior.

But less than two weeks after Washington beat the AL West champs in seven games and claimed a World Series title of their own, The Athletic reported that Houston had in fact been using a live camera feed to steal opposing catchers’ signs and report them back to their hitters in real time by banging on a trash can behind the dugout.

Although Houston was only found to have used the scheme in 2017 and not against Washington this past October, the Nationals changed up their signs frequently and used plastic cards to create intricate sets of signals that could be alternated from inning to inning or batter to batter.

Recently re-signed first baseman Ryan Zimmerman spoke with reporters on a conference call Tuesday just a few hours after the team made his new one-year deal official. When asked about his thoughts on the Astros scandal—one that has also stretched to Boston, where the Red Sox are being investigated for an alleged scheme they carried out in 2018—Zimmerman took a definitive stance against people within the game who use technology to steal signs.

“I think first and foremost, the integrity of our game and any professional game is the thing that matters the most,” Zimmerman said. “Rules are put in place to guard the integrity of the game for people to enjoy it and for just the fairness of play. I think any time that is compromised, people should pay the ultimate price.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred dealt significant penalties to the Astros, fining them for the maximum $5 million, stripping them of their first- and second-round picks for the next two years and suspending manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for one year. Astros owner Jim Crane held a press conference later that day and announced the team would be firing both Hinch and Luhnow outright to give the organization a clean slate to move forward.

However, critics of the ruling have pointed out that none of the players involved were held responsible for their actions. Only Carlos Beltran, who had been hired by the Mets to be their next manager but was let go after the findings were released, was mentioned in the commissioner’s report at all.

“Sign stealing and things like that have been a part of baseball for a long time,” Zimmerman said. “Technology, obviously, makes it easier and there’s always a line about how much you can use it, how much you can’t. I think the players and the field staff and the video people have to use their moral judgement and their respect of the game to know how much is too much.

“If there’s a camera in center field in real time giving people what pitch is coming, that’s obviously crossing the line. I don’t think you would find anyone who would disagree there.”

The Nationals and Astros share a Spring Training facility in Florida. Although the players themselves occupy opposite sides of the complex and won’t see each other too much, national reporters on the Grapefruit League tour will have plenty to write about when they pass through West Palm Beach.

“I don’t think there’s any place for it in the game,” Zimmerman said. “I think mostly that the players would respect the game enough to not partake in that stuff and then moving up from there the managers, the field staff, front office people, would obviously stop it if they saw it.

“There’s reports that it wasn’t handled like that in Houston. I don’t know enough about it to really comment on it but all I can say is obviously I think it’s completely wrong when you start messing with the integrity of the game in any aspect. It’s the greatest sin that you can do.”

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