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U.S. swimmer, Rockville native Conger set to leave Brazil after testifying

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USA TODAY Sports

U.S. swimmer, Rockville native Conger set to leave Brazil after testifying

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Brazilian police said Thursday that swimmer Ryan Lochte and three U.S. teammates were not robbed after a night of partying, and the intoxicated athletes instead vandalized a gas station bathroom and were questioned by armed guards before they paid for the damage and left.

The robbery that was or wasn't has become the biggest spectacle outside of the Olympic venues in Rio, casting a shadow over American Olympians amid an otherwise remarkable run at the Summer Games. The ordeal was also a blow to Brazilians, who for months endured scrutiny about whether the city could keep athletes and tourists safe given its long history of violence.

"No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed," Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso said during a news conference.

The police account came in direct contrast to claims from Lochte's attorney earlier in the week. The attorney, Jeff Ostrow, had insisted the swimmer had nothing to gain by making the story up. He, as well as Lochte's father and agent, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The swimmers could potentially face punishment -- probation, suspension, a fine or expulsion -- under USA Swimming's code of conduct. It was not clear if the swimmers would face criminal charges, though police said the athletes could be charged with destruction of property, falsely reporting a crime or both.

Two of the swimmers -- Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger -- checked in to a flight out of Brazil late Thursday after a judge lifted the order seizing their passports and keeping them in the country. They had testified about the incident earlier in the day, and Brazilians chanted "liar" as they left the police building.

"They did not lie in their statements. They never lied to journalists. They only stayed quiet. They did not know what was going on," attorney Sergio Riera said.

Lochte initially said that he and Conger, Bentz and teammate Jimmy Feigen were held at gunpoint and robbed several hours after the last Olympic swimming races ended. But police then said they didn't have evidence to substantiate the claim. Their passports were ordered seized so the investigation could continue, but Lochte had already left the country.

While some details in the official account of the story changed on Thursday -- police first said no guns were involved, then said two guards pointed weapons at the swimmers -- security video confirmed the athletes vandalized parts of the gas station, leading to an encounter with station employees.

The closed-circuit video shows one of the swimmers pulling a sign off of a wall and dropping it onto the ground. A gas station worker arrives, and other workers inspect the damage. Veloso said the swimmers broke a door, a soap dispenser and a mirror.

The swimmers eventually talk with station workers as their cab leaves.

As they talk, two of the swimmers briefly raise their hands and all four sit down on a curb. After a few minutes, the swimmers stand up and appear to exchange something -- perhaps cash, as police said -- with one of the men.

The footage doesn't show a weapon, but a police official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing said two guards pointed guns at the swimmers. Veloso said the guards did not use excessive force and would have been justified in drawing their weapons because the athletes "were conducting themselves in a violent way."

A station employee called police, and the guards and employees tried to get the swimmers and the taxi driver to stay until authorities arrived, some even offering to help interpret between English and Portuguese, Veloso said. But he said the athletes wanted to leave, so paid 100 Brazilian reals (about US $33) and $20 in U.S. currency and left.

Conger and Bentz told authorities that the story of the robbery had been fabricated, said the police official who spoke to the AP about the guns. Feigen's whereabouts -- and if he would give a statement -- were not known.

Police said the swimmers were unable to provide key details in early interviews, saying they had been intoxicated. The police official said officers grew suspicious when security video showed the swimmers returning to the athletes village wearing watches, which would have likely been taken in a robbery.

"We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over," Lochte told NBC's "Today" the morning after the incident. "They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground -- they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn't do anything wrong, so -- I'm not getting down on the ground.

"And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, `Get down,' and I put my hands up, I was like `whatever.' He took our money, he took my wallet -- he left my cellphone, he left my credentials."

But Lochte backed off some of those claims as the week went on, saying the taxi wasn't pulled over, and that the athletes were robbed after stopping at a gas station. Lochte also said a man pointed a gun toward him, but not at his head.

The swimmers did not call police, authorities said, and officers only began investigating after they saw news coverage with Lochte's mother speaking about the incident. Lochte also said the swimmers didn't initially tell U.S. Olympic officials what happened because "we were afraid we'd get in trouble."

While he's medaled often, Lochte's accomplishments have long been overshadowed by teammate Michael Phelps -- the most decorated Olympian in history. Lochte, a 12-time medalist, won a gold in Rio in a relay race alongside Phelps.

The robbery debacle prompted both wild speculation and social media mockery, which quickly turned to scorn after the official account went public. (hash)LochteGate was trending on Twitter, with users sharing video footage and posting comments about white privilege and rude Americans. Memes mocking the Lochte lie proliferated almost immediately.

David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia, said the incident touched a nerve in Brazil because of the country's history and cases of people committing crimes while impersonating police.

"The story did have some sense of validity but it didn't bear out and it made them look bad worldwide," he said.

2.20.20 Rick Horrow sits down with former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle

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USA TODAY Sports

2.20.20 Rick Horrow sits down with former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle

Edited by Tanner Simkins

In the latest edition of Rick Horrow's Sports Business Podcast, Rick Horrow sits down with former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle and takes you through the top sports business stories of the past week.

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

MLB stands beside USA Softball Women’s National Team as presenting sponsor of “Stand Beside Her” Tour. Chicks (and fellas) who dig the long ball have something else to pay attention to right now besides burgeoning activity in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. USA Softball is proud to announce that Major League Baseball has stepped up to the plate as the presenting sponsor of the “Stand Beside Her” tour. As the presenting sponsor of the “Stand Beside Her” tour, MLB proudly stands alongside members of the 2020 USA Softball Women’s National Team as they embark on a nation-wide tour that will hit over 35 cities as the team prepares for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with training and exhibition contests. Like baseball, softball was almost shuttered by international Olympic governance during the last decade, but global fan and player outcry and renewed investment by the pros in the amateur development of the sports helped solidify the bat swinging sports’ place in the Games. And it looks like they’re here to stay – especially after what should be a very high profile turn this summer in baseball crazy Japan.

 

SINC2020 kicks off this weekend. The 2020 Sports Industry Networking and Career (SINC) Conference will be held February 21-22 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Rick looks forward to leading a session on Saturday, and keynote speakers include Sarah Hirshland, CEO, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee; Sport Business Handbook contributor Zach Leonsis, Senior VP Strategic Initiatives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment and GM, Monumental Sports Network; Max Siegel, CEO USA Track & Field; and JoAnn Scott, NCAA's Managing Director for Division I Men's Basketball Championships. More than 100 sports business professionals from teams, leagues, agencies, collegiate athletics, sports media, esports, corporate sponsors, and sporting goods manufacturers participate and share trends, best practices, and advice for young professionals and those

 

The Inaugural class at LeBron James' high school will receive free tuition to Kent State. According to CNN, all 193 students, who are currently high school juniors, will have their college tuition covered. The kids attend James' I Promise School located in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. When they were visiting the Kent State campus, they were told of the donation and erupted in cheers while many of their parents, watching from a live feed in a separate room, burst into tears. The included donation from James comprises free tuition for four years as well as one year of a free room and meal plan. If admitted to Kent State, students need to remain in good academic standing, take part in a required number of community service or volunteer hours, and complete a minimum number of credit hours per year in order to remain eligible. James’ legacy has long been cemented on the court – now he’s solidifying his philanthropic efforts and post-basketball identity even before leaving the league.

Denny Hamlin wins another Daytona 500 for Joe Gibbs; Ryan Newman hospitalized

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Denny Hamlin wins another Daytona 500 for Joe Gibbs; Ryan Newman hospitalized

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ryan Newman flipped across the finish line, his Ford planted upside down and on fire, a grim reminder of a sport steeped in danger that has stretched nearly two decades without a fatality.

At the finish line, Denny Hamlin made history with a second straight Daytona 500 victory in an overtime photo finish over Ryan Blaney, a celebration that quickly became muted as drivers awaited an update on Newman's condition.

"I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are," Hamlin said. "But number one, we are praying for Ryan."

Roughly two hours after the crash, NASCAR read a statement from Roush Fenway Racing that said Newman is in "serious condition, but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life-threatening."

During the long wait for an update, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to express his concern. Trump a day earlier attended the race as the grand marshal, gave the command for drivers to start their engines and made a ceremonial pace lap around Daytona International Speedway before rain washed out the race.

"Praying for Ryan Newman, a great and brave @NASCAR driver! #PrayingForRyan," Trump tweeted. Newman was one of several NASCAR drivers who attended a 2016 rally for Trump in Georgia when he was a presidential candidate.

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, acknowledged the excruciating delay for information on Newman.

"To hear some positive news tonight is a relief," Rushbrook said. "He is so respected for being a great competitor by everyone in the sport."

NASCAR scrapped the traditional victory lane party for Hamlin's third Daytona 500 victory, rocked by Newman's accident 19 years after Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt was the last driver killed in a NASCAR Cup Series race.

Newman had surged into the lead on the final lap when Blaney's bumper caught the back of his Ford and sent Newman hard right into the wall. His car flipped, rolled, was hit on the driver's side by another car, and finally skidded across the finish line in flames (VIDEO - watch with caution).

It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels. Medical personnel used solid black barriers to block the view as the 2008 Daytona 500 winner was placed in a waiting ambulance and taken to a hospital. The damage to his Mustang was extensive -- it appeared the entire roll cage designed to protect his head had caved -- and officials would not allow his team near the accident site.

Drivers were stricken with concern, including a rattled Corey LaJoie, the driver who hit Newman's car as it was flipping.

"Dang I hope Newman is ok," he posted on Twitter. "That is worst case scenerio and I had nowhere to go but (into) smoke."

Hamlin is the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1995 to win consecutive Daytona 500's, but his celebration in victory lane was subdued.

Hamlin said he was unaware of Newman's situation when he initially began his celebration. It wasn't until Fox Sports told him it would not interview him on the frontstretch after his burnouts that Hamlin learned the accident was bad.

"It's a weird balance of excitement and happiness for yourself, but someone's health and their family is bigger than any win in any sport," he said. "We are just hoping for the best."

Team owner Joe Gibbs apologized after the race for the winning team celebration.

"We didn't know until victory lane," Gibbs said. "I know that for a lot of us, participating in sports and being in things where there are some risks, in a way, that's what they get excited about. Racing, we know what can happen, we just dream it doesn't happen. We are all just praying now for the outcome on this."

Runner-up Blaney said the way the final lap shook out, with Newman surging ahead of Hamlin, that Blaney got a push from Hamlin that locked him in behind Newman in a move of brand alliance for Ford.

"We pushed Newman there to the lead and then we got a push from the 11 ... I was committed to just pushing him to the win and having a Ford win it and got the bumpers hooked up wrong," he said.

Hamlin had eight Ford drivers lined up behind him as the leader on the second overtime shootout without a single fellow Toyota driver in the vicinity to help him. It allowed Newman to get past him for the lead, but the bumping in the pack led to Newman's hard turn into the wall, followed by multiple rolls and a long skid across the finish line.

Hamlin's win last year was a 1-2-3 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing and kicked off a yearlong company celebration in which Gibbs drivers won a record 19 races and the Cup championship. Now his third Daytona 500 win puts him alongside six Hall of Fame drivers as winners of three or more Daytona 500s. He tied Dale Jarrett -- who gave JGR its first Daytona 500 win in 1993 -- Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison. Hamlin trails Cale Yarborough's four wins and the record seven by Richard Petty.

This victory came after just the second rain postponement in 62 years, a visit from Trump, a pair of red flag stoppages and two overtimes. The 0.014 margin of victory was the second closest in race history, and Hamlin's win over Martin Truex Jr. in 2016 was the closest finish in race history.

That margin of victory was 0.01 seconds. The win in "The Great American Race" is the third for Toyota, all won by Hamlin. Gibbs has four Daytona 500 victories as an owner.

"I just feel like I'm a student to the game. I never stop learning and trying to figure out where I need to put myself at the right time," Hamlin said. "It doesn't always work. We've defied odds here in the last eight years or so in the Daytona 500, but just trust my instincts, and so far they've been good for me."

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