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NFL sees higher grades for gender hiring in diversity study

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The NFL posted significant gains in hiring women for coaching, team front-office and league-headquarters positions, according to an annual diversity report.

Thursday’s report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida assigned an overall B grade for the league, with a B-plus for racial hiring and a B for gender hiring. The report examined a range of positions at the league office and within franchises using data for the 2022 season.

The gender results were an upgrade from last year’s C grade. Specifically, the numerical score of 81.4 represented an increase of 6.4 percentage points from 2021. That led to a slight gain in the overall score (83.2) despite a decline in the racial hiring score (85.0) due to updated census data.

As with last year, team-level grades typically lagged behind the league’s office.

TIDES director and lead report author Richard Lapchick told The Associated Press that the gender gains were “the biggest positive, and it’s bucking the trend of most of the leagues where gender scores have been going down.”

“I think the league office has placed that emphasis,” Lapchick said. “Dasha Smith, who’s the head of that sector of the office (as executive vice president and chief people officer), is one of the highest-ranking women in professional sports. I think it’s something she’s paid particular attention to — certainly not exclusively — but her leadership has been key.”

Women who’ve been hired for prominent positions included Catherine Raiche, who is now the Cleveland Browns’ assistant general manager and vice president of football operations. That came a year after the Denver Broncos hired Kelly Kleine as executive director of football operations.

The study also reported 15 women working in coaching roles during training camp — the highest number for all men’s leagues evaluated annually by TIDES – and six in full-time coaching roles, with four being people of color.

Additionally, women held an all-time high of 41.3% of positions at the NFL headquarters, representing a significant climb from 27.9% a decade ago and 30.3% in 2015.

“We are pleased with the recent progress we have made with increasing diversity in almost all areas at the clubs and the league office, especially with women, but realize there is still much work to do throughout the organization,” NFL senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Jonathan Beane said in a statement to the AP.

“It takes a collective effort to drive sustainable results and we have committed ourselves to do so. The NFL remains committed to diversity, equity and inclusion as core values of our league and we are continuously working to make sure our hiring practices across all levels reflect that.”

The league received A-minus grades for both racial and gender hiring at the NFL headquarters. Those were higher than team-level categories such as executive leadership (C in racial, C-minus in gender), vice presidents (C in racial, D-plus in gender) and senior administration (C-plus racial, C gender).

The NFL also posted racial hiring gains in the two most high-profile positions: head coach and general manager.

The league started the year with six people of color as head coaches for a C grade and currently has seven: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Houston’s Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles and Carolina’s Steve Wilks, who are Black; Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who is biracial; the Jets’ Robert Saleh, who is of Lebanese heritage; and Washington’s Ron Rivera, who is Hispanic.

Smith, Bowles and McDaniel are in their first season. Wilks joined the list last month after taking over as the Panthers’ interim coach following the firing of Matt Rhule, though the racial makeup of the league’s head coaching ranks remains a long-running issue.

There were eight minorities as GMs to start the season for a B-minus grade: Cleveland’s Andrew Berry, Atlanta’s Terry Fontenot, Miami’s Chris Grier, Detroit’s Brad Holmes, Washington’s Martin Mayhew, Chicago’s Ryan Poles, Minnesota’s Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Pittsburgh’s Omar Khan. Poles, Adofo-Mensah and Khan are in their first year.

The league also received an A-plus grade for initiatives to improve diversity hiring.

TIDES issues annual report cards on racial- and gender-hiring practices in professional leagues such as the NBA, WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, as well as for college sports in diversity hiring and graduation rates.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Source: https://apnews.com/article/nfl-sports-soccer-business-florida-36fb0cdcfc9d7816c8d3fce1c159fa24

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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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