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Hall of Famer Croom: ‘Not enough progress’ for Black coaches

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-mississippi-alabama-19455f428e553bdd71e50038a007c764

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Sylvester Croom had a Hall of Fame career as an offensive lineman at Alabama, and was among the first Black players to become a star and team leader under coach Bear Bryant.

Three decades later, Croom became the Southeastern Conference’s first Black head football coach with Mississippi State. That was 2004. Since then, there have only been four others and currently there are no Black head football coaches in the SEC.

During this season’s still spinning hiring cycle, there have been 16 major college football head coaching vacancies filled. Colorado with Deion Sanders is the only school to hire a Black coach.

“No, there’s definitely not enough progress,” Croom told The Associated Press on Tuesday after a news conference with the new College Football Hall of Fame class.

“It’s almost 20 years now, and the fact that we still have to have these conversations is disappointing and it’s frustrating. But at the same time, we still have to shed light on the situation as it is and find ways to change it because a lot of good people are being denied opportunities to coach and to lead and to motivate other people. We want to get the best people. …. And doors should not be closed to them simply because of the color of their skin,” he said.

Croom was one of 18 former players being inducted into the Hall of Fame by the National Football Foundation on Tuesday night at its awards dinner.

Former Colorado star Rashaan Salaam, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1994, was inducted posthumously and represented by his mother, Khalada Salaam-Alaji.

Rashaan Salaam took his own life in 2017.

“He has received so many accolades and this really caps it off,” she said.

The rest of the class included: LaVar Arrington of Penn State; Champ Bailey of Georgia; Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech; Mike Doss of Ohio State; Chuck Ealey of Toledo; Kevin Faulk of LSU; Moe Gardner of Illinois; Boomer Grigsby of Illinois State; Mike Hass of Oregon State; Marvin Jones of Florida State; Andrew Luck of Stanford; Mark Messner of Michigan; Terry Miller of Oklahoma State; Dennis Thomas of Alcorn State; Zach Wiegert of Nebraska; and Roy Williams of Oklahoma.

The coaches inducted were John Luckhardt who was a head coach for nearly 30 years at Washington & Jefferson and California University of Pennsylvania; Billy Jack Murphy of Memphis; and Gary Pinkel, who led Toledo and Missouri.

Croom, 68, coached five years at Mississippi State, taking over a program that was headed toward NCAA sanctions at the time. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native went 21-38 and had one winning season.

Larry Templeton, the former Mississippi State athletic director who hired Croom, said he didn’t know Croom until he interviewed him but he had gotten glowing recommendations. Templeton said he was looking for a coach with unimpeachable integrity and Croom, who had spent years as an NFL assistant, met that criteria.

Templeton said he believes athletic directors and university presidents have become so risk averse when it comes to hiring a football coach, it limits their searches.

“They’re wanting a proven commodity,” Templeton said.

The latest FBS school to fill a head coaching vacancy was UNLV, which on Tuesday announced it had hired Arkansas defensive coordinator and former Missouri head coach Barry Odom, who is white.

Croom pointed to the NFL, which has also struggled with lack of minority head coaches but has put policies in place to at least try to address the issue.

“There has to be a continued dialogue from conference commissioners,” Croom said. “I definitely think my hiring at Mississippi State was a result of a push by Commissioner (Mike) Slive to make changes and his talking not only to athletic directors, but to presidents and boards of trustees. I think that originated from him.”

Croom said he has been impressed from afar with the job Sanders did at Jackson State and is dismayed by the criticism Coach Prime has gotten for seemingly using the historically Black school in Mississippi as a stepping stone to a bigger job.

Sanders spent three season at Jackson State, winning Southwestern Athletic Conference titles this year and last.

“He’s earned this opportunity and I think his success has helped Jackson State, has helped the HBCU community, on and off the football field,” Croom said.

Croom was among the first Black players recruited to play at Alabama by Bryant. That change helped re-ignite the Crimson Tide.

From 1972-74, Croom played center on teams that finished in the top-10 every year and won three SEC championships. He was a team captain his senior year.

“The key to it was Coach Bryant,” Croom said with a smile, “because we were afraid to lose.”

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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Source: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-mississippi-alabama-19455f428e553bdd71e50038a007c764

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Tokyo Olympic official, 3 others held in bid-rigging probe

TOKYO (AP) — A senior official with the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee and three company executives were arrested Wednesday in an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Games.

Yasuo Mori, the Olympic official, was arrested along with Koji Henmi, who headed the sports division at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. Two other business executives were also arrested on charges of violating anti-monopoly laws, the Tokyo District Prosecutors said in a statement.

Prosecutors have also been investigating a separate bribery scandal centered around former Dentsu executive Haruyuki Takahashi, who was a member of the organizing committee.

The bid-rigging probe in general involves the choice of venues for Olympic test events as well as for the actual Games. It is a joint operation of the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which looks at violations of anti-monopoly laws.

Prosecutors said the officials secretly agreed on the bids in 2018.

Some of the contracts had only one bidder, according to Japanese media reports. Prosecutors say the bid-rigging scandal arrests have just begun and could embroil more companies.

Upon conviction of violation of anti-monopoly laws, individuals can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The sprawling corruption allegations surrounding Tokyo have caused the bid by the northern Japanese city of Sapporo for the 2030 Winter Games to be placed “on hold.” Sapporo was considered the favorite before the scandal.

Salt Lake City is the only other known bidder that might consider taking 2030. Salt Lake officials have said they favor a bid for 2034.

The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year and held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The official price tag is $13 billion, though a government audit suggests it might be twice that much.

Takahashi and officials at several other companies were earlier arrested in the bribery scandal. Plans for those trials are beginning. Takahashi was released on bail after being held for several months.

Among the companies embroiled in the scandal involving Takahashi are Aoki Holdings, a clothing company that dressed Japan’s Olympic team; Sun Arrow, which produced the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic mascots named Miraitowa and Someity; and Kadokawa Group, the publisher of the Games program and guidebooks.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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Jessica Pegula reveals her mother Kim Pegula’s health crisis

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Pro tennis player Jessica Pegula has revealed that her mother, Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres co-owner and president Kim Pegula, went into cardiac arrest in June and is still recovering while dealing with significant language and memory issues.

In an essay that The Players’ Tribune published Tuesday, Jessica Pegula detailed for the first time the medical crisis that abruptly removed her mother from the public eye and suggested that her mother may not resume the same level of involvement in the family’s sports franchises.

Kim Pegula, she wrote, went into cardiac arrest while sleeping and received lifesaving CPR from another daughter until paramedics arrived and restored her heartbeat. The family previously said only that Kim Pegula was receiving medical care for “some unexpected health issues” that arose shortly after she celebrated her 53rd birthday.

“My mom is working hard in her recovery, she is improving, but where she ends up is still unknown,” Jessica Pegula, 28, wrote.

She said she decided to write about her mother’s ordeal after Bills player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field during a Jan. 2 game in Cincinnati in what Pegula described as “some bizarre, messed-up, full circle moment.”

“My stomach sunk because it felt like the exact same thing all over again. I was sitting on the bench for a tennis event in Sydney, Australia. I wanted to throw up,” wrote Jessica Pegula, who is No. 4 in the WTA’s singles rankings. “I was supposed to go on for mixed doubles in 15 minutes and I remember telling one of my teammates, `I am a little freaked out right now, this is too close to home, and I feel like I am going to have a panic attack.’”

As Hamlin began his recovery, Jessica Pegula joined in an outpouring of support from fans and the NFL and wore a white screen-printed patch with Hamlin’s uniform number while playing at the Australian Open. “It didn’t feel like it was just for him, it felt like it was for my mom as well,” she said.

Jessica Pegula had been home in Florida months earlier when she got a call from her sister, Kelly, around midnight on their mother’s birthday and learned that their mother was being rushed to the hospital.

“My mom was asleep when my dad woke up to her going into cardiac arrest and she was unresponsive for quite a while,” she wrote. Kelly Pegula, who was staying with their parents, performed CPR — just three months after telling her family that she planned to become certified in the procedure for a job.

“I remember her telling us what she was doing in our family group chat,” Jessica Pegula wrote, “and my mom even responded, `Nice Kells! Now if we have a heart attack you can revive us.’”

Today, Kim Pegula “can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “It is hard to deal with and it takes a lot of patience to communicate with her, but I thank God every day that we can still communicate with her at all. The doctors continue to be blown away by her recovery, considering where she started, and her determination is the driving force of that.”

As the first woman to serve as president of an NHL and NFL team at the same time, Kim Pegula “lived it and loved it, and it was felt by everyone she met,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “Now we come to the realization that all of that is most likely gone. That she won’t be able to be that person anymore.”

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Mat Ishbia to AP: Suns ‘will be one of best places to work’

Mat Ishbia said his first major project as owner of the Phoenix Suns will be to listen to employees and figure out what problems they’ve faced.

After that, he’ll start fixing.

The tenure of embattled Robert Sarver as owner of the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury officially ended Tuesday, when Ishbia — the chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, plus a member of Michigan State’s NCAA championship team in 2000 — took over. He will be governor, while his brother, Justin Ishbia, will be alternate governor.

Justin Ishbia will be the team’s second-largest shareholder, behind his brother. They acquired more than 50% of the franchise, which includes all of what was Sarver’s stake as well as some holdings of minority partners, and the sale valued the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time listening and learning, then make the adjustments to make this not only one of the best organizations in the NBA but also one of the best places to work,” Mat Ishbia told The Associated Press. “That’s a huge part of my success here in Michigan and it will be a big part of our success now in Phoenix. I don’t have enough information to know what exactly it’s been like, but I will dig in and roll up my sleeves and figure it out over the next three, four, five months-plus.”

The 43-year-old Ishbia was announced as the owner-in-waiting of the Suns on Dec. 20, and the last hurdle before the purchase became official was cleared Monday night when it was revealed that the NBA’s board of governors approved him as the next owner.

The transaction was completed Tuesday. Ishbia will hold a news conference in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Sarver was suspended for one year by the NBA in mid-September after an investigation found he engaged in workplace misconduct that included racist speech and hostile behavior toward employees. About a week after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the suspension and $10 million fine — the most allowed by league rule – Sarver said he would start the process of finding a buyer.

Ishbia’s name had been linked to other potential sales of pro sports teams in the past, including the NFL’s Washington Commanders. And the self-described basketball nut jumped quickly to acquire the Suns and Mercury.

“This is what I wanted the whole time,” Ishbia said. “My name got linked to a lot of things. That doesn’t mean it was actually necessarily right. The Phoenix Suns, in my opinion, is one of the elite franchises in one of the elite cities in America. To have a chance to be one of the owners of the Suns and Phoenix Mercury is a dream come true.”

Ishbia’s company, UWM, employs about 7,000 people. It had over $226.5 billion in mortgage originations in 2021, which the company says is a record for wholesale volume.

“We’re all about culture,” Ishbia said. “We’re all about people. We’re all about the word ‘team.’ It’s almost like a match made in heaven — the city, the location, the NBA, my love of basketball. And I can come in, take some of the really good things they’re doing but maybe make some changes from a culture perspective.”

There is one immediate order of business: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday.

The Suns — who went to the NBA Finals in 2021, losing a 2-0 lead and falling to Milwaukee in six games, had the best regular-season record in the league last season — are in a muddled Western Conference playoff race this season.

Ishbia said he and team president of basketball operations James Jones, who is also the general manager, have talked and will keep talking while Jones gauges the market to see what moves, if any, are right for the Suns.

“We’ve got to make sure we put ourselves in a great position,” Ishbia said. “I think we have an amazing team and I think we’re in a great position right now. Will I be involved? Yes. Are we highly active? Yes. But at the same time, I think we have a championship-contending team without doing anything over the next two days.”

Ishbia played for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, and he got into the 2000 title game against Florida at the end. He knew he was out of bounds when he picked up a loose ball in the final moments, but no referee blew the whistle. Sensing opportunity, Ishbia tried a reverse layup at the buzzer; it missed, but he celebrated anyway.

He senses another opportunity now.

“For me, this is a lifelong dream,” he said.

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