NFLPA Board Wants No Preseason Games – Earlier this week, the NFL decided to shorten its preseason from four weeks to two to account for the coronavirus pandemic and the ways in which it’s affecting the league’s ability to start the season. But the NFL’s players don’t think that move went far enough. An NFL Players Association source said Friday that the union’s board of player representatives had voted to recommend scrapping all 2020 preseason games. The matter came to a vote during Thursday evening’s conference call with NFLPA player reps, and the source said the vote was unanimous. It’s unclear whether the NFL will consider the players’ recommendation. The league has yet to formally announce the reduction of the preseason from four games to two, although a source told ESPN’s Kevin Seifert on Wednesday that the decision had been made. The league does not believe it needs the union’s approval to set its preseason schedule, although the players would argue that the changes in work rules brought on by the pandemic allow them the right to be involved in the decision. Training camps for most NFL teams are set to begin July 28, only weeks away, and the league and union are still finalizing health and safety protocols to protect players and team personnel from the virus. Many of those protocols were discussed on the Thursday night call with the player reps and union medical director Thom Mayer. They range from newly designed protective face masks to reduced sizes of training camp rosters to possible fines for players who spread the virus after circulating in public outside of the team facility. Sources familiar with the content of Thursday’s call said players had many unanswered questions about how they can safely return to practice and play. The NFL has so far maintained that it plans to start camp and the regular season on time. (Dan Graziano/ESPN)
Royals’ Salvador Perez Tests Positive – Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez has tested positive for the coronavirus, he told reporters Saturday. Perez, 30, said he is asymptomatic and could play baseball today if needed. “I can’t wait to be back,” Perez said. “I know it’s going to take me at least 12 days, but I’m good. I don’t feel anything. That’s a good thing for me.” Under Major League Baseball’s operations manual for the 2020 season, a player testing positive for the coronavirus is ordered self-isolate immediately. Perez, a six-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, missed the entire 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow. He told reporters that no one else in his family has tested positive for the coronavirus. In eight seasons with the Royals, Perez, the 2015 World Series MVP, has 141 home runs with 503 RBIs while batting .266. The Venezuela native became a U.S. citizen in January. MLB and the players’ association announced Friday that 31 players and seven staff members had tested positive for COVID-19, a rate of 1.2%. (ESPN)
Freddie Freeman Among Four Braves To Test Positive – Atlanta Braves four-time All-Star Freddie Freeman, premier reliever Will Smith and two teammates have tested positive for the coronavirus, a jarring hit to the NL East champions less than three weeks before the start of the pandemic-delayed season. “It will be a while before we can get him back,” manager Brian Snitker said Saturday about Freeman. Snitker said the four players, including right-hander Touki Toussaint and infielder Pete Kozma, agreed to have the team disclose their positive tests. Snitker said Freeman had a negative intake test early in the week before having a positive test Friday. Snitker said the first baseman has a fever and “is not feeling great.” Major League Baseball has scheduled the 60-game season to start on July 23. Freeman is the biggest star in the sport so far to have his positive virus test publicly announced by his team. It is too early to know if Freeman’s status for the start of the season could be jeopardized. “It’s a serious matter,” Braves outfielder Nick Markakis said. “I hope Freddie heals up quickly. I know he’s young, healthy. I hope he heals up and gets back as quickly as possible because as you know with 60 games, one week can change things quickly.” The 30-year-old Freeman set career highs with 38 home runs and 121 RBIs last season to help Atlanta win its second straight NL East title. He placed fourth in the NL MVP voting in 2018 after hitting .309 with 23 homers and winning a Gold Glove. Atlanta signed Smith, an All-Star with the San Francisco Giants last season, to a three-year, $39 million deal in November. He had 34 saves in 38 opportunities while going 6-0 with a 2.76 ERA. Snitker said Smith and Toussaint have no symptoms. He said Kozma, who is working with top minor leaguers at the team’s Triple-A Gwinnett facility, has a fever. Read more at: https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/29409316/freddie-freeman-four-braves-players-test-positive-coronavirus (Associated Press)
Gilbert Burns Out Of Main Event For UFC 251 – Gilbert Burns will not compete in the main event of UFC 251, a source confirmed to ESPN. Burns had been set to face welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in a title fight July 11 that was the headliner of the first card at UFC’s Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Burns, 33, appeared to reference his removal from the fight in a tweet early Saturday, writing “devastating news” and saying he is “not feeling well but I’m going to win this battle.” MMA Junkie first reported that Burns would not compete at UFC 251. UFC has yet to confirm his removal from the fight. UFC’s charter flight from Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi was scheduled to depart late Friday night, sources said, but neither Usman nor Burns was on the flight. Neither was seen at the airport as well, sources said. Both Jorge Masvidal and former title challenger Colby Covington took to Twitter late Friday night to campaign for the fight, but there is no word on what UFC will do with Usman now. Masvidal’s manager, Abraham Kawa, said his fighter is “absolutely willing” to take this bout on a week’s notice. Sources said there haven’t been any talks with Covington’s team. Burns’ team, sources said, is hopeful the fight will be rescheduled. The UFC 251 card includes a featherweight title rematch between Alex Volkanovski and Max Holloway and Petr Yan taking on Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight championship. The Volkanovski vs. Holloway fight is now expected to serve as the main event. “This was the real main event,” Volkanovski told ESPN. “A lot of people thought this was the main event, so it’s in its rightful place.” Burns (19-3) has won his past six fights. Since March, he has picked up impressive victories over former title contender Demian Maia and former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Those wins put him in a line for a title shot once UFC could not come to terms with the original No. 1 contender Masvidal. (Ariel Helwani/ESPN)
Cleveland Indians Say They’re Open To Possible Name Change – Cleveland’s MLB team hasn’t always been called the Indians and the team indicated Friday it might soon be willing to change its name again. The Indians, previously known as the Forest Citys, Spiders, Bluebirds, Bronchos and Naps before adopting their current name in 1915, said they’ve been paying attention to changing times and may change along with them. “We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues,” the Indians said. “The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice.” The statement came about two years after the Indians removed their cartoonish “Chief Wahoo” logo from their uniforms and as the Black Lives Matter movement has recently helped put pressure on the NFL’s Washington Redskins to change their name. Redskins owner Dan Snyder has long resisted calls to change the name the football team has used since the 1930s, but recent criticism from corporate sponsors such as FedEx – which paid the Redskins $205 million for naming rights to FedEx Field in Landover, Md. — had Snyder promising this week to conduct a “thorough review” on the matter. The Redskins also face the likelihood that Washington, D.C., officials will demand a name change if the team attempts to get a new stadium within the city limits, after playing in the suburbs since 1997. The Indians, meanwhile, said they’re committed to “engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.” Previously, Indians owner Paul Dolan said he and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred preferred to keep the Indians name, Cleveland.com reported. “While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team,” the club said. (Dom Calicchio/Fox News)
Jimmie Johnson To Miss Brickyard, Indy Test With Virus – Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss this weekend’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 44-year-old Johnson is the first driver in any NASCAR series to test positive, and the news Friday cast a shadow over the historic NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader races coming up Saturday and Sunday. There was no indication that any races would be affected. Hendrick Motorsports said Johnson will not return until he is cleared by a physician. He was tested earlier Friday after his wife, Chani, tested positive after experiencing allergy-like symptoms. Johnson is asymptomatic. “My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson said. “I’ve never missed a race in my Cup career, but I know it’s going to be very hard to watch from the sidelines when I’m supposed to be out there competing. Although this situation is extremely disappointing, I’m going to come back ready to win races and put ourselves in playoff contention.” Johnson is scheduled to retire from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of the season and was trying to tie Jeff Gordon and Michael Schumacher as the only five-time winners at Indianapolis. He has made 663 consecutive Cup series starts — the longest streak among active drivers — and is 12th in the standings, 63 points inside the playoff picture. NASCAR’s rules state that a driver must be symptom-free and have two negative coronavirus tests in a 24-hour span to return. Read more at: https://www.espn.com/racing/nascar/story/_/id/29406499/jimmie-johnson-miss-brickyard-400-covid-19-diagnosis (Associated Press)
Tops among the storylines heading into Round 3 is Chris Kirk, who dropped a 65 on Friday to take a co-lead with Webb Simpson. He’s had a tough 18-month run (more on that below), but we could be in for a sweet ending to this chapter of his life with a few more days like he had on Friday. He’ll be chased, too, by a bevy of big highly-ranked players and youngsters trying to climb the world rankings.
Round 2 Leaderboard:
T1. Chris Kirk (-12) — How good is this story? From alcohol rehab this time last year to a win on the Korn Ferry Tour two weeks ago to a win on the PGA Tour? That would be insane and the story of the year so far on the PGA Tour. Kirk can keep this up, too. He’s putting it well so far, but he’s hitting it just as well. The statistical profile is sustainable, and I hope he sustains it because it’s a story worth rooting for on the weekend at Detroit Golf Club.
T1. Webb Simpson (-12) — Webb Simpson, best American player in the world. How does it sound? He’s the guy to beat after two rounds, and he hasn’t even found a hot putter yet (which is terrifying). He’s been lights out with his irons and is about to jump to the top of the 2020 PGA Tour Player of the Year race.
T3. Matthew Wolff (-11) — There are no questions about the talent level, rather his ability to sustain it at a high level for four days, four weeks or four months at a time. He said his biggest struggle this season has been in his head. “I would say just maturity, just mentally,” said Wolff. “When I’m hitting it good … I feel like I was really caring too much about the outcome and thinking about every little factor on every single shot, don’t short-side myself, was it a little into the wind, do I just want to hit it in the middle of the green to try to eliminate bogeys. That’s really not how I play.” Hopefully we get more of how he played on Friday this weekend at the Rocket Mortgage
T3. Bryson DeChambeau, Seamus Power, Mark Hubbard, Ryan Armour, Richy Werenski (-11) — Bryson had very similar days on Thursday and Friday. He started slow on his front nine on both days and torched the back nine (31 on Thursday, 32 on Friday). His iron play has been absolutely abysmal. He’s leading the field in driving distance and somehow nearly last in proximity to the hole. The muscle mass hasn’t been going into his yardage book yet, no doubt, and it appears that distance control is the biggest issue in his game. A hot flat stick is saving him, but he needs to tighten it up from 125 yards and in if he wants to win this weekend.
T9. Kevin Kisner, Sepp Straka (-10) — Kisner will be a bear all weekend and will not be an easy out if he’s in the mix on Sunday afternoon. I don’t often view Kisner as somebody poised to win a shootout; he’s built better for Open Championships, I wouldn’t want to be next to him with the event on the line on Sunday either. He’ll need to keep a hot hand on the greens (T14 so far) if he wants to grab his fourth PGA Tour win.
T20. Viktor Hovland (-8) — He could not be putting worse or hitting it better. Third from tee to green, 97th in putting. That’s a recipe for a 65-65 weekend and the victory. Now the trouble becomes figuring out which former Oklahoma State Cowboy to back.
T55. Hideki Matsuyama (-5) — I’ve been disappointed in how Matsuyama has played this week. I thought he’d have a great week, but he’s struggled more than you would expect from tee to green. The putter is always dicey (and has not been very good on either Thursday or Friday), but I thought we’d get more out of the irons than we’ve gotten thus far. Of course, he’s also capable of going 64-64 to make things interesting late on Sunday. (Kyle Porter)
Pelicans’ Assistant Jeff Bzdelik Won’t Join Team – New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik will not accompany the team to Orlando for the restart of the NBA season, Bzdelik’s agent, Warren LeGarie, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Friday afternoon. According to team sources, the decision was made after Bzdelik, 67, consulted with team physicians and around CDC guidelines. The team is fully supporting his decision to stay back, team sources said. Bzdelik is in his first year as an assistant coach with the Pelicans. Bzdelik retired from coaching just before the start of the 2018-19 season but ultimately joined the Houston Rockets again in November of that year. He joined the Pelicans in July of last year. According to sources, Bzdelik will be able to remain in New Orleans and continue to help the team with defensive strategy from afar. Read more at: https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/29406332/new-orleans-pelicans-assistant-jeff-bzdelik-join-team-no-word-alvin-gentry (Andrew Lopez/ESPN)
Lakers’ Lionel Hollins Won’t Join LA For Restart – Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Lionel Hollins will not be joining the club in Orlando, Florida, for the NBA’s restart at the end of July after the league was unable to medically clear him. According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, Hollins, 66, was “red-flagged” for health reasons amid the coronavirus pandemic. On July 1, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported the NBA would not prevent coaches from working with their teams in Orlando based on their ages alone. The assurance followed criticism from the National Basketball Coaches Association, which was concerned the league’s health and safety guidelines would single out older coaches since age is a factor in assessing risk related to COVID-19. The NBA also reserved the right to flag certain employees and refer them to a league-appointed panel of physicians who will have the final say over whether they can join the bubble at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex. It is unclear if Hollins was flagged by the Lakers, the NBA or an independent doctor. This is Hollins’ first year with Los Angeles, and he is the second member of the organization who will not be joining the team for the restart of the 2019-20 campaign. (Blake Schuster)
Browns TE David Asks For Trade, Agent Says – Tight end David Njoku has asked the Cleveland Browns to trade him before training camp, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday. The Browns told Njoku, 23, that they would like to keep him, but Rosenhaus told the team he’s intent on a trade. “It is in David’s best interest to find a new team at this time,” Rosenhaus told Schefter. The Browns announced in April that they would pick up Njoku’s fifth-year option, worth $6.4 million. They had already signed Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper to a four-year, $44 million deal with $23 million guaranteed in March. Then they drafted tight end Harrison Bryant in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. But new coach Kevin Stefanski values tight ends and said after the draft he could see all three playing. Njoku, a 2017 first-round pick out of Miami, broke his wrist and suffered a concussion in Week 2 of the 2019 season. He played only two more games after that and finished the season with five receptions for 41 yards and one touchdown. In 2018, he had 56 receptions for 639 yards and four touchdowns. (ESPN)
Five-Star Recruit Makur Maker Picks Howard Over UCLA – Five-star senior Makur Maker announced his commitment to Howard on Friday morning, becoming the highest-ranked college basketball prospect to commit to a historically Black college or university since the ESPN recruiting database started in 2007. Maker chose the Bison over UCLA, although Kentucky and Memphis were also on his final list of four schools. “I was the 1st to announce my visit to Howard & other started to dream ‘what if,'” Maker wrote on Twitter. “I need to make the HBCU movement real so that others will follow. I hope I inspire guys like Mikey Williams to join me on this journey. I am committing to Howard U & coach Kenny Blakeney.” Maker visited Howard last fall during the same month when five-star guard Josh Christopher took an official visit to the school. Christopher ultimately committed to Arizona State. Maker, a versatile 6-foot-11 frontcourt player, is ranked No. 16 in the ESPN 100 for 2020. He also entered his name into the NBA draft, but he is likely to withdraw if he’s not expected to be a first-round pick. Maker is ranked No. 75 in ESPN’s NBA draft rankings. There have been links between Maker and the G League, but sources have told ESPN he isn’t interested in going that route. Maker is the first five-star prospect to commit to an HBCU since the ESPN recruiting database began, and if selected in the NBA draft, he would be the first such HBCU product since Kyle O’Quinn (Norfolk State) in 2012. But over the past couple of months, HBCUs have become more assertive in recruiting top-tier high school talent, especially in the 2021 and 2022 classes. Maker, the cousin of Detroit Pistons forward Thon Maker, was born in Kenya before moving to Australia. He moved to California in 2015. Makur Maker averaged 14.7 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 73% on 2-pointers last spring and summer with Dream Vision on the Adidas grassroots circuit. (Jeff Borzello/ESPN)