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NFL lifts suspension of Saints coach Sean Payton

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NFL lifts suspension of Saints coach Sean Payton

NEW YORK (AP) Sean Payton is back as coach of the New Orleans Saints.

Payton's season-long suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty program was lifted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected.

The decision allows Payton to attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday, where some of the top college players available for the NFL draft will be competing.

Payton, along with assistant head coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis, and four players including Jonathan Vilma, was suspended after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.

``I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations,'' Payton said in a statement. ``Furthermore, I have assured the commissioner a more diligent protocol will be followed.''

The suspension was scheduled to end after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, but was moved up after Payton and Goodell met on Monday.

``Coach Payton acknowledged in the meeting his responsibility for the actions of his coaching staff and players and pledged to uphold the highest standards of the NFL and ensure that his staff and players do so as well,'' Goodell said in a statement. `''Sean fully complied with all the requirements imposed on him during his suspension.

``More important, it is clear that Sean understands and accepts his responsibilities as a head coach and the vital role that coaches play in promoting player safety and setting an example for how the game should be played at all levels.''

Saints owner Tom Benson welcomed back his coach.

``We are all thankful that Sean Payton has been reinstated,'' Benson said. ``We have a lot of work to do and we are in the middle of it right now.''

Payton also needs to fill a key position on his coaching staff following the departure last week of offensive line coach and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer, now the offensive coordinator in Chicago.

Loomis and Vitt are in Mobile evaluating players. Loomis said he was caught off guard by the news of Payton's return. But he said having Payton back sooner than expected will help the Saints.

``Every day makes a difference. We've certainly missed Sean in terms of the football team and all the things that go with our business and the game. But look, I miss his friendship. We all miss his friendship. We miss him as a person. I'm excited that he's going to be back here and fired up that he's back.''

Vitt said he talked to Payton Tuesday morning and that he should join the Saints' contingent in Alabama on Wednesday.

``We just found out on the way to practice,'' Vitt said. ``Mr. B called Mickey and we're all excited. Sean went and spent the day in New York (Monday). He just got back in Dallas. I talked to him on the phone about 5 o'clock this morning. He's packing his bags so we'll expect he'll be here some time'' Wednesday.

Vitt agreed with Loomis that the timing of Payton's return is good for the team.

Payton is ``going to hit the ground running with both feet. His jaw is going to be set. He'll have a note pad full of thoughts and ideas and he's going to have to get himself caught up with the evaluation process of our team and looking at film, which he'll do. This is perfect, getting him back now, because he's going to be here for the readings of our players. He's going to be here for the readings of these college seniors. We start handing out unrestricted free agent tape on Thursday and Friday of this week.

``This is where you're building the foundation of your football team, with the evaluation process of these draft eligible juniors and seniors and the free agents that are out there.''

There remains one outstanding issue for the Saints stemming from the bounty probe: What will become of the Saints' second pick next spring. As part of the bounty punishment, Goodell fined the Saints $500,000 and took away second-round picks in 2012 and 2013. However, Goodell left open the possibility of restoring the 2013 second-rounder and instead docking the team a later-round pick if he is satisfied with the club's level of cooperation in the bounty matter.

What the Saints do know is that the 49-year-old Payton is set to return to New Orleans for the next five seasons. Earlier this month he signed a contract extension running through the 2017 season.

The coach is the last person punished in the bounty probe to return to work. Before Tuesday, Payton had not been at work since mid-April, when Goodell rejected the coach's appeal of his suspension.

Loomis was suspended for eight games, Vitt for six and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains suspended indefinitely

Vilma and current Saints defensive lineman Will Smith, along with former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, were given suspensions of various lengths, but never served a game. Their punishments were overturned after lengthy appeals which also coincided with exhaustive litigation in federal court.

The litigation included Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Goodell, which was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan last week.

Payton's reinstatement is one more step for the Saints to return to normalcy, but for Vitt, said it doesn't bring closure to the bounty scandal.

``It doesn't for me. You're going to have ask Sean that question, Mickey that question, Vilma that question. It certainly doesn't for me. I can forgive. I'm not going to forget. It is what it is.''

Beyond the Scoreboard: WNBA names new commissioner

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USA TODAY Sports

Beyond the Scoreboard: WNBA names new commissioner

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

 

TO LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST, CLICK HERE

 

  • Ted Leonsis is the owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards, Mystics, and Capital One Arena and has a plan to get the D.C. punk band Fugazi back and playing together. Leonsis said that he would compensate the band, and make a major donation to local charities around Washington D.C. in their names. Fugazi hasn’t been playing together since 2003, however the four members were recently reunited due to a museum exhibition called “Action. Reaction. Action: Visualizing Fugazi” at the Lost Origins Gallery in D.C. According to WTOP, the exhibit fittingly explored the impact of the band, both as musicians and activists. Whether or not the punk band reunites, their activism has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars thanks to their fame and keenness for charity.
  • The WNBA officially has a new commissioner. Last week, the league named Cathy Engelbert, current CEO of Deloitte and the first woman ever to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S., to the role with a start on July 17. Engelbert, who played college basketball at Lehigh, becomes the fifth top WNBA exec in the league’s history, following Val Ackerman, Donna Orender, Laurel Richie, and Lisa Borders. One thing Engelbert “will have to deal with relatively quickly,” according to SportsBusiness Journal, is the current CBA, which expired after this season. “Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” The WNBA took seven months to name its new leader, but it was worth the wait.
  • It’s graduation season, and we’d like to suggest a gift. Our Sport Business Handbook recognizes the last 50 years as the formative era of the modern sport business industry. As colleges and universities graduate their 2019 classes of aspiring career professionals, this is a rare opportunity to hear from some of the industry’s most influential players. Consider that according to Forbes and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the U.S. Sports Industry will be an $80 billion annual category by 2022. Job growth across all sports-related industries is expanding at over 12 percent annually — more than double the national job market. In markets like Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Miami, Dallas, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, sports-related job growth is increasing at or above 20% annually. The global sports industry is estimated to be a $1.3 trillion category. Sports media is the fastest-growing segment of the industry. As a subset of that, legalized sports gambling represents a multi-billion-dollar category poised to grow exponentially, as evidenced by casino and mobile sports betting legalized in Iowa last Monday. So if you have a child poised to join the workforce post college, they could do a lot worse than a career in sports.

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Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: It's too early to make changes - at manager or otherwise

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: It's too early to make changes - at manager or otherwise

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer and Mike Rizzo met at the upper corner of the dugout railing Friday around 2 p.m. Scherzer, coming in from a bullpen session, leaned against the padded bar. Rizzo did most of the talking, at times using both hands and gesturing toward different parts of the field.

Scherzer walked into the dugout following the five-minute conversation with Rizzo. Turns out, everyone has questions and is searching for answers during this failing Nationals season.

Not long after the general manager and his Hall-of-Fame-bound starter finished their conversation, manager Davey Martinez came up the dugout steps to watch Anibal Sanchez throw a simulated game. Martinez’s emergence confirmed he was still in charge Friday. Rizzo’s words two hours later further entrenched that idea -- for now.

“We're not making any decisions with a third of the season gone,” Rizzo said when asked his confidence level with Martinez as manager. “We've got a lot of season left. Davey's not happy with what's going on, nobody's happy with what's going on, the fanbase, ownership and myself. Things got to get better. We've got to play better baseball.”

In a planned group session with reporters, Rizzo harped on a trio of points: One was the stage of the season, a second was the need to play cleaner baseball, the third centered on his hunt for bullpen help.

To the first, it’s a semantics dance. Washington, 19-31 coming into Friday following stomach-churning losses to a Mets team in disarray when the Nationals arrived at Citi Field last Sunday, are 30.9 percent into the season. Forty games is historically used as a marker for determining a team’s capabilities. The Nationals are beyond that point and in a deep corner. It’s no longer early because of the broad hole the Nationals have dug.

To the second, the call for cleaner baseball began last offseason. That it’s still being made May 24 is perhaps the most explanatory aspect of how the Nationals find themselves just 1.5 games in front of the trying-to-lose Marlins. Despite persistent harping on the concept, near-daily gaffes continue on the field. The Nationals often do early work, have extra meetings and try to drill down specific points. But, the attempts are betrayed time and again during the actual games, whether it’s baserunning, fielding or math-countering pitch selection.

To the last, Rizzo said he is in pursuit of bullpen fixes from any location: trade, waiver wire, wherever. He also expects those on the roster to perform better. This idea is akin to the demand for cleaner baseball, if with a shorter shelf life. The bullpen roared into the bottom of the league the second day of the season when it allowed seven runs across the eighth and ninth innings. It’s been atrocious since. Of the five relievers used that day, all five remain in the organization. Only Trevor Rosenthal is not on the active 25-man roster.

The three pillars of Rizzo’s discussion -- the calendar, bad baseball and tragic bullpen -- have conspired to put Martinez’s future at risk. He was more stern and explanatory in Friday’s pregame press conference before his boss delivered a proportional backing. Rizzo did not explicitly say Martinez will remain manager. He also did not say he would not. Instead, the generalist approach reigned.

“Well certainly you have to have a plan in place for all contingencies,” Rizzo said. “And like I said, we're fairly spoiled here. We've had winning records, we've been in first place for a lot of the last seven years. There's only three teams in all of baseball, I think, that have played .500 baseball over the last seven years. So we're certainly cognizant of the calendar and where we're at in the standings, and we always have a one-, three-, and five-year plan in our minds, and that'll continue.”

The question is how many of those years will include Martinez if this one continues on the same path.

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