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Athletes shaken by Connecticut shooting

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Athletes shaken by Connecticut shooting

MIAMI (AP) When the Miami Heat players and coaches showed up for work Saturday morning, basketball was secondary.

Newtown was the focus.

Friday's massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was the primary topic of discussion among the Heat, even though they were gathered to finish prepping for a Saturday night game against Washington. It's rare for anything to overshadow basketball on the Heat practice court, but clearly, this was not going to be a typical day.

``Basketball, this is nothing,'' Heat forward LeBron James said. ``These games are nothing compared to when you have a tragedy like that. It sucks that sometimes you need a tragedy to put things back in perspective, to appreciate what you have. But it does that to people. It's unfortunate that you have to have something like that to understand what's really important and some things that aren't important at all. Family is the No. 1 important thing in life.''

It's likely that many Heat players and coaches had never heard of Newtown before Friday.

That doesn't mean they weren't affected, like countless others. Moments of silence were observed before many games.

In Memphis before tipoff of a college basketball game against Louisville, a moment of silence was observed for the victims and for 32-year-old Memphis police officer Martoiya Lang, a mother of four children, who was shot and killed on Friday. Public address announcer Chuck Roberts struggled and his voice choked up a bit as he said the Memphis officer's name. And he finished after the moment ended with ``Amen.''

In England, the Queens Park Rangers soccer team wore black armbands at the request of its players during a Premier League match against Fulham. Chelsea captain John Terry on Instagram said ``So So Sad'' beneath a picture of a candle, and he urged prayers for school. Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany tweeted: ``Giving guns to everyone to `protect' their home or fighting to get rid of all the guns? How many more Newtons will it take?''

Moments of silence were everywhere, from a minor-league hockey game in Hershey, Pa.; a U.S. women's soccer exhibition match in Boca Raton, Fla.; and at golf's Father-Son Challenge in Orlando, Fla., where all players and caddies wore black ribbons to honor the victims.

More tributes - many more - are coming from the sports world over the next few days. It's expected that all NFL games this weekend will be preceded by tributes, such as moments of silence and helmet decals. The New York Giants and New York Jets both plan to wear the letters S.H.E.S., for Sandy Hill Elementary School, on their helmets this weekend. And the New England Patriots will light flares for each of the 26 people killed at the school.

``Our thoughts and prayers are with all the people impacted by that tragedy,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said Saturday. ``It's, wow, it's amazing. ... Just a horrific deal that happened there.''

The Heat also held a moment of silence Saturday night, with many players being accompanied on the court by their children. Chris Bosh held his son, Jackson, tightly against his chest.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has shopped at the Clackamas Town Center, a mall in his native Oregon where a gunman killed two people Tuesday and then himself. One of Dwyane Wade's nephews was shot last March in Chicago, where gun violence is a major topic of discussion. Ray Allen attended the University of Connecticut, still calls it ``my state'' and expressed shock as he tried to collect information about Friday's events.

``It's still on my mind. I'm really emotional about it. My eyes water up a little bit just thinking about it right now. Your kids are what you live for,'' Heat forward Udonis Haslem said, his voice barely above a whisper.

Spoelstra typically comes into the Heat interview room after game-day practices and makes a brief statement about injury situations or what the team worked on that particular day.

He started his remarks Saturday by talking about Newtown, nothing about the Heat or the Wizards.

``We talked about it as a team today and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the community,'' Spoelstra said. ``Horrific tragedy in Connecticut. We took some time to give our thoughts and prayers to them.

``It's despicable,'' he added. ``It's a horrific tragedy. And it doesn't matter whether you have family or not or kids or not, you can't relate to a tragedy like that.''

Spoelstra said he monitored news reports on the Internet until late Friday night. James was getting updated on the day's events even as the Heat were visiting sick children in a pair of Miami hospitals on Friday afternoon, after which he immediately went home and hugged his own sons, neither of whom is likely old enough to comprehend what took place inside that Newtown school.

``Just having two kids of my own, in elementary, I could not imagine sending them off to school and them not returning,'' James said.

Haslem has three sons, and said he tried telling his oldest boy that ``things happen in this world that we have no control over.''

He's all-too-familiar with the grieving process, having lost close friends and relatives over the years. Still, Haslem insisted that he cannot comprehend what the families in Newtown feel, especially with this all happening so close to Christmas.

``You take it one day at a time. You're never going to forget about it. Time heals the wounds, slowly,'' Haslem said. ``I still grieve over my friends. I still grieve over my family members I've lost. Slowly, slowly, it gets a little bit - not a lot - but a little bit easier.

``We love the money, we love the fame, we love the sport, but at the end of the day, we do this for our kids and the legacy to give them things you never had,'' Haslem said. ``If it was about us, a lot of us would have retired after our first contract. You do this for your kids. Your kids are everything. My three kids are my heart. I just imagine someone taking my heart away from me. Might as well kill me.''

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AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. in New York contributed to this report.

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Three ways the Redskins helped Dwayne Haskins truly shine for the first time

Three ways the Redskins helped Dwayne Haskins truly shine for the first time

Dwayne Haskins played really well Sunday against the Eagles, and it wasn't just on certain drives or in specific situations. Haskins put together a complete and encouraging performance in Week 15, and for that, he deserves a lot of credit.

But the Redskins' coaching staff, and most notably Kevin O'Connell, should be praised as well for setting Haskins up to shine versus Philly.

Here are three things O'Connell and the offense did at FedEx Field that contributed to the rookie's best effort as a pro.

They were more aggressive on early downs

The following two things are true: 1) Bill Callahan loves Adrian Peterson, and 2) Adrian Peterson has a legitimate shot at rushing for more than 1,000 yards this season. Because of those two facts, it felt like Sunday was setting up to be the Peterson Show, especially on first down.

It wasn't, though, and that greatly benefitted Haskins.

No. 7 found Terry McLaurin for a nine-yarder to start the contest, a throw that allowed the QB to settle into a nice rhythm from the start. The 75-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to McLaurin was also a first down toss, one that featured play-action:

A first down pass in the second quarter, meanwhile, led to a defensive pass interference that advanced the ball 14 yards. On that possession, Haskins would eventually find Steven Sims for a score. 

Throughout the matchup, the Burgundy and Gold seemed more comfortable with trusting Haskins to attack the Eagles, and that's something he very much enjoyed.

"I hope to continue to do it," he told reporters postgame.

They targeted Steven Sims a bunch

Want another example of O'Connell's influence over the gameplan? Look no further than how much Sims was involved.

Overall, Sims was targeted 11 times, and while he only hauled in five of those passes, he's a guy worth looking to often. O'Connell has talked for weeks now about how much he wants to use Sims, and while it may sound odd to say that an undrafted receiver from Kansas deserves lots of chances on a unit that includes McLaurin and Peterson, it's true.

He's really difficult for defensive backs to stay in front of and he's shown a penchant for making some tremendous grabs, including his toe-tapper for his first career receiving TD on Sunday.  

"I'm seeing everything and I'm playing faster," Sims said in the locker room. 

O'Connell and Haskins are seeing him, too, and his larger role is giving Haskins another weapon to rely on.

They introduced a creative option play

In addition to the uptick in aggressiveness, the Redskins also were more creative against the Eagles than they had been lately. The best example of that is the option they introduced and executed perfectly on two separate snaps.

On the first option, Haskins fake-tossed it to Peterson before lateraling it to him a second later. The fake from Haskins was a nifty way to buy more time for the play to develop and it set Peterson up to pick up a first down:

They went back to it again in the third quarter, but this time, Haskins kept the ball and cut upfield for a 23-yard gain:

Watch any NFL game on any weekend, and you'll see offenses trying new concepts and surprising defenses with those concepts. In Week 15, the Redskins were finally one of those offenses, and the group as a whole was the most effective its been under Haskins. And for that, both the player and the staff should be recognized.

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Mark Lerner reflects on Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency

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Mark Lerner reflects on Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency

For seven seasons, the Nationals and Bryce Harper enjoyed a happy marriage that included four NL East division titles, an MVP award and the respect from the rest of the league as legitimate playoff contenders year in and year out.

But principal owner Mark Lerner knew their relationship might not last forever. In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Donald Dell, Lerner talked about how the team balanced making a business decision with the personal side of hoping to extend Harper when he hit free agency last offseason.

“We all like Bryce but at the end of the day, there’s the economic factor, there’s other factors that come into it: clubhouse, interaction with teammates, everything you could imagine in a decision about a free agent,” Lerner said.

Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which at the time was the record for the most expensive contract in MLB history. The Nationals reportedly made him an offer for 10 years and $300 million that included $100 million in deferrals at the end of the 2018 season.

“He [was] a free agent for a reason, he earned that right,” Lerner said. “It’s his decision and his family’s decision where they play. And he chose to move on. He obviously got an incredible offer.

“Everybody seems to forget it’s not just a bidding war to get the players, the player has to want to play here and sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t.”

By the time Harper signed with Philadelphia in early March, the Nationals had already reported to Spring Training with starter Patrick Corbin signed to a six-year, $140 million deal as well as a slew of new faces on the roster that had joined the club through free agency. Lerner said Washington never heard back from Harper and didn’t want to wait for him to make a decision.

“We were moving down a different path at that point anyhow,” Lerner said. “Because, as you may recall, Bryce had not given us a response through his agent Scott Boras and we had decisions we had to make so we didn’t get caught waiting too long for him to find out we can’t get other players to replace him.

“And our choice at that point in time was either wait for him or we had the opportunity to sign Patrick Corbin. And we chose to sign Patrick Corbin and get another great starter, which has worked out great, and it was really more us at that point to say, ‘We have to move on.’”

The Nationals went on to win the World Series in 2019 while Harper posted an .882 OPS with 35 home runs in 157 games for the 81-81 Phillies. But as division rivals, Harper and the Nationals will see each other plenty over the next 12 years he’s locked into Philadelphia.

Only time will tell which side ends up wondering what could’ve been.

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