Nationals

Column: An ugly year in sports - or was it?

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Column: An ugly year in sports - or was it?

Good riddance, 2012.

The year that almost was left us with a string of hideous story lines.

From the ongoing repulsiveness of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State to Lance Armstrong being stripped of his Tour de France titles for injecting himself with everything but the kitchen sink.

There was the New Orleans Saints' cash-for-hits bounty scandal, and Commissioner Roger Goodell being slapped down by his predecessor for the way he handled the whole thing. And the sad, sad plights that emerge almost every day from ex-football players who took far too many blows to the head while playing America's most popular sport.

Those were the top four in The Associated Press' annual survey of the year's sport stories.

Thanks a lot, 2012.

Your legacy is pain and misery - if we allow it to be.

This year could be a turning point on so many vital fronts.

Maybe when we reflect back years from now, we'll remember 2012 as a time when we decided sexual abuse was no longer an embarrassing problem to be swept under the rug, that doping was a scourge we needed to address no matter who it took down, that football players must be taken care of physically and emotionally if our national sport is to survive.

If we could pick one figure who we hope will epitomize this year more than any other, it would be Cy Young Award-winning pitcher R.A. Dickey. A journeyman who became a star in his late 30s after taking up the knuckleball. A victim of childhood sexual abuse who summoned the courage to talk about his plight in a candid autobiography. Someone who triumphed in the end after all the pain.

``One of the hopes I have for the book is that people will be able to draw something from it that might be able to help them,'' Dickey said during spring training after it was published, ``whether it's to talk about it more, to not be afraid, to be open with what's happened, that there are people available that will love you no matter what.''

That would be a worthy legacy for 2012.

Of course, it's terrible what happened at Penn State, which was voted the top sports story for the second year in a row. But who knows how many kids will be saved in the years to come because the next time a child is raped in the shower by a dirty old man, the police will surely be called. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly spoke hopefully of the guilty verdict against Jerry Sandusky persuading ``other victims of abuse to come forward.''

And that's a good thing.

Of course, it's shocking to learn of the lengths Armstrong was willing to go to away from his bike, all to make sure he climbed to the top step of the podium on the Champs-Elysees year after year. But who knows how many future cyclists will decide it's not worth the risk of getting caught or having to deal with the inner turmoil of knowing they are a cheat. ``Our mission is to protect clean athletes by preserving the integrity of competition not only for today's athletes but also the athletes of tomorrow,'' U.S. anti-doping chief Travis Tygart wrote in the voluminous case file against Armstrong.

And that's a good thing.

Of course, the Saints scandal exposed the dirty little secret in the NFL that apparently wasn't much of a secret to those who play the game, the idea that money changes hands when someone doles out a hit that leave the other guys crumpled on the turf. While former commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the punishments against four players, he doled out enough blame that one can only hope this is the last time we hear of anyone using the word ``bounty'' or intentionally trying to hurt someone.

And that's a good thing.

Of course, it's heartbreaking to see former greats of the gridiron, like the late Alex Karras, withering away in their golden years, unable to recognize friends and loved ones because the game they played turned their brains into mush. But everyone from the NFL to Pop Warner leagues finally seem to be addressing this wrenching issue, providing a glimmer of hope that future generations will be better protected. ``He is interested in making the game of football safer,'' Karras' actress-wife, Susan Clark, told the AP a few months before he died, ``and hoping that other families of retired players will have a healthier and happier retirement.''

And that's a good thing.

Oh, sure, there were some triumphant tales from these last 12 months.

The London Olympics were a sight to behold. Michael Phelps went out in splash of glory, Usain Bolt blazed down the track, Gabby Douglas and Missy Franklin stole our hearts.

LeBron James finally claimed a ring after a season that even his critics had to concede was one of the most dazzling in NBA history. The San Francisco Giants kept us up late at night, winning baseball playoff games in the most unfathomable of ways. Quarterback Peyton Manning made an inspiring comeback from career-threatening injuries, leading Denver to a division title.

All were events worth celebrating.

But they're unlikely to have the far-reaching impact of those that made us cringe.

Now, if we can do better, maybe 2012 won't be such a bad year after all.

---

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

NEW YORK – A few constants remain during this wayward Nationals season. One is Max Scherzer.

Scherzer comes into Tuesday leading the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts. He's second in strikeouts per nine innings and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Scherzer's 3.72 ERA is well above his average of 2.71 since arriving in Washington in 2015. However, his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is a league-leading 2.45, showing he has been victimized by bad defense more than bad pitching.

He hopped on a pop-up edition of The Racing Presidents podcast Tuesday in New York. Sitting in the visitors dugout a day ahead of another matchup with 2018 Cy Young Award Jacob deGrom, Scherzer touched on lighter topics, like his selection of Dr. Dre's "Still Dre" as his walkup song, and addressed who is responsible for the Nationals being seven games under .500 the last year-plus.

We're all responsible," Scherzer said. "When you wear a hat and jersey that says Nationals on it, we're all in the same position. It's frustrating to not have a winning record. It's frustrating not to be winning as a team. [Since] I've been here, we've won a couple division titles and you know that feeling of what it's like to win. You know you have the core group of players who have won here in the past that can win here again. It's just a matter of figuring out what the right chemistry is and going out there and getting it done."

Scherzer is in his 12th major-league season. He's made at least 30 starts for 10 consecutive seasons. One of the reasons for his lack of injuries and durability is not because he goes through extensive recuperation during the offseason. Instead, Scherzer keeps pushing both his arm and body. 

"I try to find a way to continue to do more, to take more on my body even as I age," Scherzer said.

And, about that walkup song, which is part-protest, part-comeback song? He was out to dinner with reliever Aaron Barrett when it popped on and Barrett suggested it as this year's entrance music.

So, click below to listen to everything Scherzer had to say in our exclusive interview. Also, don't forget to download, rate and subscribe to The Racing Presidents podcast. We're with you after every game and with marquee interviews and insight you can't find elsewhere.

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Bruno Fernando

School: Maryland
Position: Center
Age: 20 (turns 21 in August)
Height: 6-10
Weight: 237
Wingspan: 7-3
Max vertical: 33.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 13.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.9 bpg, 60.7 FG% (5.1/8.4), 30.0 3PT% (0.1/0.3), 77.9 FT%

Player comparison: Jusuf Nurkic, Bam Adebayo

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 24th, NBADraft.net 12th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 28th, Ringer 37th

5 things to know:

*Fernando tested the NBA draft waters last year before returning to school and clearly helped his stock by doing so. He went from a likely second round pick to someone who could fall in the lottery. Fernando is ranked in most mock drafts as the third-best big man in this draft behind Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes.

*He is one of the best rebounders in this class. He averaged 10.9 boards per game as a sophomore and had five games of 15 or more. That includes a 19-rebound performance against Nebraska on Feb. 6. Fernando is a strong, physical forward so there is reason to believe those skills will translate to the next level.

*Concerns about Fernando include his lack of an outside shot. He attempted only 13 threes in college and did most of his damage around the rim. But the potential for Fernando to become a reliable scorer in the NBA appear to be there. He has soft touch around the rim and can finish with power.

*Defensively, Fernando needs some work. He has the physical tools with his size and long arms, and he averaged 1.9 blocks per game in college, but some evaluatiors criticize his defensive instincts and discipline. As long as Fernando can block shots and rebound in the NBA, he should be fine on that end of the floor.

*Fernando is originally from the country of Angola and has played for their national team in several international tournaments. Angola basketball is famous for being the subject of one of Charles Barkley's most memorable quotes. During the 1992 Olympics, he said of USA's next opponent: "I don't know anything about Angola, but I know they're in trouble."

Fit with Wizards: Fernando would fit the Wizards in a variety of ways. Rim protection and rebounding are their biggest needs and he would help them to different degrees in both areas. With rebounding in particular, he could be a big plus.

But two questions about Fernando could give the Wizards pause. One is if they can justify taking him ninth when he may fall into the teens and second is what his ceiling will ultimately be. Does he have All-Star potential or will he top out as an Enes Kanter-type rebounding specialist?

Ideally, the Wizards would find someone with very high upside to give them hope for a true franchise building block moving forward. There may be better options than Fernando at No. 9, even if they play positions that are less of a need for the Wizards.

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