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Column: Still a lot to be thankful for in sports

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Column: Still a lot to be thankful for in sports

The bad stuff is easy. You read about it almost every day; hear it discussed endlessly by the talking heads on radio and television.

But if sports is a microcosm of society - and it is - then there's a lot of good going on, too. And, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, here are some things to be thankful for this year that have nothing to do with wins and losses, the World Series or the Super Bowl:

A COACH'S FIGHT: Circumstances. That's what Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano called his health problems when he came in the locker room after a win against Miami a few weeks ago and addressed his team for the first time since unexpectedly being hospitalized just as his first season as head coach was beginning. The circumstances are that Pagano has leukemia, an insidious disease that's difficult to beat no matter how hard you fight. In an moving speech that you have to watch to fully appreciate, Pagano vowed to dance at the weddings of both his daughters and to host more than one Super Bowl trophy before he's done fighting. ``It's already beat. It's already beat,'' Pagano told his team.

DRUG BUSTERS: It would have been easy for Travis Tygart and his investigators at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to simply give up on nailing Lance Armstrong. Federal prosecutors already had, and if they couldn't build a case against Armstrong, hard to imagine the doping agency doing any better. But Tygart pressed on, eventually building a case that tore apart the facade Armstrong had created, detailing a widespread and systematic doping scheme on a level not seen before in organized sports. Yes, he took down an American sports hero and damaged his charitable work, but Tygart also sent a message that a level playing field is important. Sports will be a cleaner and better place because of it.

BROOKLYN REBORN: No, the Dodgers aren't returning. Suddenly, though, Brooklyn is a sports town again, thanks to a new, $1 billion arena and a Russian billionaire who parked his basketball team there. The New York Islanders will also be moving there in 2015, assuming, of course, that the NHL lockout is resolved by then.

BRITISH INVASION: Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour de France, while Andy Murray became the first British man to claim a tennis major in 76 years when he won the U.S. Open. Perennial also-rans, the British had a spectacular sporting summer the country will never forget, including a London Olympics that surpassed expectations at every turn.

VIN SCULLY: He would be a national treasure, but the people of Los Angeles like to claim him as their own. For more than 60 years, Scully has broadcast the Dodgers, and his gift to the new Dodger owners was the announcement that he will come back for at least one more year at the age of 85, calling games as he always does, solo in the announcer's booth. In the interests of full disclosures, I was one of those kids in LA who went to sleep at night with a transistor radio underneath my pillow, growing up listening to Vinny.

RORY TIME: For years, golf fans waited for a rival to the great Tiger Woods, only to be disappointed by every David Duval who came along. Rory McIlroy is the anti-Tiger, an accessible and grounded superstar from the town of Holywood in Northern Ireland who hits the ball incredible distances, all with an inner joy that Woods will never have. McIlroy has his own reason to be thankful, with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki as his constant companion.

BOXING: Even if you don't like the sport, you have to love the stories. Johnathon Banks learned everything he knew about boxing from Emanuel Steward, so much so that when Steward died a few weeks ago, Banks took over as trainer of heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. He was in Klitschko's corner in Germany for his win over Mariusz Wach and then flew to Detroit for a memorial service for Steward. A few days later he was in Atlantic City, where he revived his own career with a shocking knockout win Saturday night over Seth Mitchell. That could put him in line for a title shot against, you guessed it, Klitschko, the man he trains. Only in boxing. ``All I can think is how grateful I am for Emanuel Steward,'' Banks said.

LABOR PEACE: OK, the NHL is in lockout mode, and the prospect of another lost season is a gut check to hockey fans everywhere. But there will be no lost games in the NFL for much of the next decade, the NBA has a new long term deal and the only thing owners and players in baseball are worried about is how many zeroes the new contracts have. And, of course, there are decent referees on the field again in the NFL, even if they do happen to swear at times.

CONCUSSIONS: Good things are happening in the fight against the once silent epidemic of concussions on sports. Brains are being analyzed, millions of dollars are being poured into research, and there's an awareness about the danger of hits to the head that could save lives everywhere from your child's soccer field to the stadiums of the NFL. Unfortunately, it's too late for thousands of former players who are paying for the blows to their head every day of their lives - something the NFL refuses to own up to.

DEATH OF THE BCS: Our long national nightmare is almost over. The Bowl Championship Series is, for all intents and purposes, dead, killed off by a fan revolt at the age of 16. It will be replaced in 2014 by a four-team playoff that, while not perfect, will help legitimize the national championship game. Meanwhile, a possible Notre Dame against Alabama title game this season could be one of the biggest ever.

OPPORTUNITIES: Forty years ago this summer, Congress passed and President Nixon signed into law a bill that changed sports forever. Title IX opened up opportunities for women to play sports that were once unimaginable, and it's a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come. When Title IX was enacted, fewer than 30,000 female students participated in sports in colleges and universities, a number that has now increased nearly six-fold. Some 3 million girls participate in high school athletics today, 10 times the number who played sports in 1972. Women may never make big breakthroughs in professional sports, but the resources now devoted to female sports means your daughters and granddaughters can dream of doing things in sports they could never do before.

SPORTS EXTRA: You pay for it more than you realize, every time the cable or satellite bill is due. The Yankees cost you money, and so do the Knicks. There are so many new sports networks popping up that each want their share of the pie that the bill will keep going up until customers finally revolt. What you once got for free now costs a lot, but what a bargain it really is. The variety of sports on television is astonishing, even more so to the generations that grew up before ESPN, when watching sports meant a few football games and Saturday's baseball game of the week - and having to get up to turn the channel to watch it.

We're living in a world where the options for sports fans are greater than ever. We can watch basketball on the decks of aircraft carriers, hockey on the infield of old baseball parks, and the NFL from soccer stadiums in London. Instead of being parked in front of a TV we can feed our seemingly insatiable sports fix on laptops, tablets and even smartphones. If that's not enough it's easier than ever to have a little something riding on the game, whether in form of a wager or a fantasy team payout.

Still there's nothing like a Saturday morning spent watching the kids play soccer or, at my house, a Thanksgiving Day street football game with relatives of all ages. Even in an era of amazing technology, there's room at the local playground for a pickup game of hoops, and grass at the park to toss a baseball around.

So enjoy the turkey and the NFL on TV as well. Save room for the pumpkin pie, and yet another game to feast your eyes on.

There's a lot to be thankful for.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

Injuries and a suspension to Tom Wilson have kept things interesting for Todd Reirden in his first season as head coach of the Capitals.

At first, that meant figuring out an optimal lineup out of the players who were still available. But now there will be another challenge Reirden faces as the team continues to get healthy and that’s figuring out who to take out of the lineup.

On Tuesday, that player was Burakovsky.

“I just felt like going into [Tuesday’s] game that the other players had taken more advantage of the opportunity than he had recently,” Reirden said before Tuesday’s game. “For me, it's a rewards/earned ice time situation where there's a lot of competition. What happens is when players get opportunities and they play well, then it creates competition. Some have to win, some have to lose in that competition. Right now, that's what we've chosen to go with.”

Burakovsky’s career has been plagued by up-and-down play and scoring slumps. For the season, he has managed only eight points in 29 games. He did manage to score the game-winner against Arizona on Dec. 6, but that goal came after two very lackluster period of play by him.

“It's part of sports, I guess,” Burakovsky said Wednesday. “It is a tough sport. You're competing against the best players in the world. That's just how it is right now and I've just got to battle through it.”

Burakovsky has been cycled throughout the lineup this season, but has not gained any traction with any line or with any particular linemates so far. Thus, a player with top-six skill finds himself on the outside looking in at the lineup.

“I think guys on the team has been playing really well and deserve to play and have done a little bit more than maybe I have in the past now,” Burakovsky said. “We've been winning so that's most important thing and when I get the chance, I'm just going to go in and do my thing, play my game.”

Reirden said he was impressed by how Burakovsky has responded in practice. Given Reirden’s “rewards” system of coaching that should mean Burakovsky gets back into the lineup sooner rather than later. But if he continues to struggle to keep his production up, he will have a hard time staying in.

With both Oshie and Wilson now back from injury, the Caps have 14 forwards on the roster meaning two forwards will have to be scratched each game. There’s no one currently in the top six you would take out for Burakovsky and considering how well players like Brett Connolly are playing plus the chemistry the fourth line has found, there is not much room to plug in a struggling winger who still cannot find any consistent production.

This also calls into question what Burakovsky’s future on the team may be. Burakovsky is on the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It will take a qualifying offer of $3.25 million from the Caps just to retain his rights as an RFA meaning general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to determine if he is worth that much.

As dire as his contract situation may appear from the outside looking in – especially for a player who has had confidence issues in the past – he says his next contract is not something he is thinking too much about.

“I'm not worried about my future,” Burakovsky said. “I know what I can do out there. I think I've proved what I can do and sometimes you just have to battle a little bit harder than you wanted to and it's going to happen. Right now, I think it's kind of what I'm doing.”

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It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

During the last month, the average Redskin fan learned more about post-surgery infections than most football fans ever considered. 

The news surrounding Alex Smith's recovery from a broken leg has been upsetting, particularly that Smith has dealt with a serious infection and had to undergo multiple procedures to clean up the wound. Smith's situation was unique, he broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg, and the fracture wasn't clean

Still, alarming news emerged this week that Smith was not the only Redskins player to deal with post-surgery infection. 

Rookie Derrius Guice injured his knee in the preseason, ending his season and ruining a full offseason of momentum. Before he ever played a game, Guice became a fan favorite with his engaging enthusiasm. Then, he injured his knee in the preseason and was lost for the year. 

For many players, surgery is tough, but then rehab begins. 

For Guice - like Smith - that wasn't the case.

After his knee surgery, Guice suffered an infection that lasted two months and required three additional procedures, The Washington Post reported. That required seven weeks of antibiotics which included significant use of IVs, swelling, flu-like symptoms and having his knee drained. 

The experience forced Guice to stay in Louisiana for months, closer to Dr. James Andrews office in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and away from his Redskins teammates in Ashburn. 

Now, finally, Guice is feeling better and expects to be all the way back for offseason work in 2019. That's great news for the Redskins.

Guice was considered to be the focal point of the Washington offense before the knee injury in the preseason, and he's a running back with immense potential. 

On some level, however, it's quite alarming that both Smith and Guice suffered infections after major injuries. 

Smith's injury was grotesque enough that there were immediate worries of infection. Even with the advanced concern, the infection still came. 

Guice's injury was severe, but not like Smith. And still, the infection came. 

It would take a forensic medical team to compare the situations and figure out if there is something the Redskins need to address. That won't happen on this page. 

At the same time, however, what were the odds back in training camp that the Redskins' then starting quarterback and running back would not only need surgery on their leg, but both would suffer from post-op infection? 

Like many things with the Redskins' 2018 season, there seem to be more questions than answers. The good news, Guice should be back for 2019. As of now, the same can't be said for Smith. 

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