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Thinking Out Loud: Despite brash style, Muhammad Ali worth admiring for standing by his principles

06.10.16 at 5:34 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to the “real” Rocky, Chuck Wepner?

— “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” — Muhammad Ali

— To me, the above quote is precisely what encapsulates the person Muhammad Ali was. And they are words I’ve always tried to follow myself. I don’t have any personal experiences with Ali, as it seems countless thousands of sports writers and reporters were apparently blessed with, just my personal thoughts on a life and career that were beyond remarkable, but not without flaws.

— I didn’t even like Ali, who passed away last weekend at 74. I grew up rooting against him, instead choosing to cheer for Joe Frazier and even Jerry Quarry to give him his comeuppance. Competing in the ring many, many years ago with everyone trying to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” I tried emulating Frazier I was so anti-Ali. His treatment of Frazier leading up to their first fight in 1971, calling him an “Uncle Tom,” was as insulting and unprofessional as it was racist.

— But it attracted the attention of the sporting world, if not the entire world. His introduction of trash-talking to the American sports consciousness was the complete opposite of how I was always coached to “behave” in competition. It took me a few years to realize what Ali probably was doing, and he used ABC’s Howard Cosell and guys like Frazier as whipping posts — or as straight men — for his literal punch lines.

— Despite his crass, loud and boisterous manner, Ali created a forum for many who could not speak, who could not find justice or equality, or who were disadvantaged merely because their skin was a different color. Early in his career, he went to extremes to make his points. But he stood up for his principles, which I later, grudgingly, learned to admire. After all, many still believe Ali was nothing more than a U.S. military draft-dodger in the early ’60s.

— Above all, however, he backed up his boastfulness like few others in history have managed to do. Like him or not, you have to respect his ability to walk the walk, after talking the talk.

— My admiration for his skills, in and out of the ring, grew considerably after Parkinson’s ravaged his physical self. Ali remained a world icon well into a new generation of fans and followers who knew little — if anything at all — about his boxing career. We may never see another personality like him, especially with our social media-driven world ready to chew you up and spit you out for outrageous comments, or standing up for your beliefs.

— “Don’t count the days — make the days count,” was how Ali lived. And I learned to embrace the philosophy.

— Here’s another one of my favorite Ali quotes: “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Amen. And rest in peace, champ.

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Hockey legend Gordie Howe dies at 88

06.10.16 at 12:54 pm ET
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Hockey legend Gordie Howe died on Friday. Howe, who suffered a stroke in 2014, was 88.

In 1946, at 18 years old, Howe signed a contract with the Red Wings that would begin a remarkable 26-year NHL career. Howe played with the Red Wings and Hartford Whalers, scoring 801 goals and recording 1,850 points, while being named to 23 All-Star teams and winning six MVP awards. In 25 years with the Red Wings, he won four Stanley Cups (1950, ’52, ’54 and ’55).

Howe first retired from the NHL in 1971, and in 1972 he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. After a stint playing alongside sons Mark and Marty in the World Hockey Association — including two years with the New England Whalers — Howe made a return to the NHL in 1979 by playing a final season with the Hartford Whalers before retiring again at the age of 52. He retired with the most assists, points and games played in the NHL. He still has the record for most seasons and games played.

“He represented Detroit with pride and class,” Michigan governor Rick Snyder said in a statement. “In a city that cherishes its many champions, Howe was perhaps the most beloved.”

Off the ice, Howe was known for always taking time to greet fans and sign autographs.

“Gordie Howe was an incredible ambassador for the game of hockey,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He was as fierce and competitive as they come but away from the rink he was truly engaging and personable and always enjoyed his interaction with the fans. … We will miss ‘Mr. Hockey,’ who was the greatest Red Wing of all time.”

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Friday’s Morning Mashup: Streaking Yankees stung by another injury at 1B

06.10.16 at 8:24 am ET
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Welcome to Friday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

MLB: Red Sox at Twins, 8:10 p.m. (NESN; WEEI-FM)
MLB: Tigers at Yankees, 7 p.m. (MLB Network)
MLB: Rangers at Mariners, 10 p.m. (MLB Network)
College baseball: Super Regionals, Boston College vs. Miami, 5 p.m. (ESPNU)
College baseball: Super Regionals, Arizona vs. Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
College baseball: Super Regionals, East Carolina vs. Texas Tech, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
College baseball: Super Regionals, TCU vs. Texas A&M, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
NBA Finals: Warriors at Cavaliers, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Soccer: Copa America, Chile vs. Bolivia, 7 p.m. (Fox)
Soccer: Copa America, Argentina vs. Panama, 9:30 p.m. (Fox)
Soccer: Euro 2016, France vs. Romania, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Track and field: NCAA outdoor championships, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)


Chris Parmelee

Chris Parmelee

— Things have been looking up lately for the Yankees. On Thursday they complete a four-game sweep of the visiting Angels to improve their record to .500.

However, their injury woes at first base continued, as Chris Parmelee had to be helped off the field after suffering what appeared to be a serious right hamstring injury in the seventh inning of Thursday’s 6-3 win.

With Mark Teixeira (torn knee cartilage) and backup Dustin Ackley (shoulder) sidelined, and last year’s backup Greg Bird out for the season (shoulder surgery), Parmelee had stepped up, hitting two home runs in his first start Wednesday, then hitting an RBI single in the fifth inning Thursday. Two innings later, while on defense, he stretched to catch a throw from shortstop for the final out of the seventh inning and came up lame.

“I haven’t counted how many injuries we’ve had at first base, but as a teammate you feel bad when you see one of the guys go down like that,” outfielder Carlos Beltran said. “He was just trying to make the play, but unfortunately he ended up hurt. We just hope it’s not major.”

Manager Joe Girardi was not optimistic that Parmelee will be back on the field soon.

“I’m sure he’s going to have to get an MRI … but I would be completely shocked if he’s a player for us,” Girardi said, adding: “People ask about depth, but you’re usually not four-deep, five-deep at first base. It’s hard, but we have to find a way to overcome it.”

— Former Yale basketball captain Jack Montague, who missed the Bulldogs’ run to the NCAA Tournament, is suing the school for expelling him in February over a sexual assault allegation.

According to his lawsuit filed Thursday, Montague said he believed he had consensual sex with a fellow Yale student — with whom he already had an ongoing sexual relationship — on the night in question, and the school treated him harshly to show it was tough on sexual misconduct.

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Thursday’s Morning Mashup: James Shields routed, booed off field in White Sox debut

06.09.16 at 8:08 am ET
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Welcome to Thursday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

Stanley Cup Final: Sharks at Penguins, 8 p.m. (NBC)
MLB: Astros at Rangers, 2 p.m. (MLB Network)
Soccer: Copa America, Uruguay vs. Venezuela, 7:30 p.m. (FS1)
Soccer: Copa America, Mexico vs. Jamaica, 10 p.m. (FS1)
Track and field: NCAA outdoor championships, 8 p.m. (ESPN)


— Red Sox fans who were disappointed their team did not acquire veteran pitcher James Shields have to be feeling a little better following the right-hander’s debut with the White Sox on Wednesday night.

Shields, acquired from the Padres earlier in the week, was hit hard early and often and booed by Chicago fans in an 11-4 loss to the visiting Nationals.

The boos started after Shields walked the second batter of the game en route to a four-run first inning, intensified after each of the three home runs he allowed — three in four batters — and reached a crescendo when he was yanked after allowing a single to the leadoff batter in the third inning. Struggling with his fastball command, Shields was charged with seven runs on eight hits.

“You never want to come into a new team and expect to do that,” Shields said afterward, adding: “I didn’t give them a chance.”

Shields, who has struggled since signing a four-year, $75 million contract with the Padres before last season, failed to get out of the third inning in his final start with the Padres as well. His performance led to the White Sox losing for the 20th time in 26 games and falling under .500 for the first time this season.

“Maybe he came in here pressing to try to impress,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “We know he’s going to pitch better, but the first inning probably got to him somewhat.”

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Maria Sharapova suspended 2 years for use of meldonium, will appeal ban

06.08.16 at 12:45 pm ET
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Maria Sharapova plans to fight her two-year ban. (Susan Mullane/USA Today Sports)

Maria Sharapova plans to fight her two-year ban. (Susan Mullane/USA Today Sports)

Tennis star Maria Sharapova has been suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for meldonium at this year’s Australian Open.

The suspension came from an independent three-person panel selected by the ITF, which ruled that Sharapova did not intend to cheat by using the recently banned meldonium, yet she carried “sole responsibility” for testing positive in January.

Sharapova, 29, immediately posted on her Facebook page to say that she will be appealing the ban.

“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” Sharapova wrote.

The required length of suspension for an intentional violation is four years, but the ITF tribunal rejected a full suspension.

“The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong,” Sharapova continued, “yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years.”

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Read More: International Tennis Federation, Maria Sharapova, meldonium,

Wednesday’s Morning Mashup: Orioles’ Manny Machado ready to ‘deal with the consequences’ after starting brawl vs. Royals

06.08.16 at 8:18 am ET
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Welcome to Wednesday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

MLB: Red Sox at Giants, 10:15 p.m. (NESN; WEEI-FM)
MLB: Blue Jays at Tigers, 1 p.m. (MLB Network)
MLB: Angels at Yankees, 7 p.m. (MLB Network)
NBA Finals: Warriors at Cavaliers, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Soccer: Copa America, Brazil vs. Haiti, 7:30 p.m. (FS1)
Soccer: Copa America, Ecuador vs. Peru, 10 p.m. (FS2)
College softball: World Series championship, Oklahoma vs. Auburn, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
College track and field: NCAA outdoor championships, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)


— The Orioles, battling the Red Sox for first place in the American League East, likely will be without one of their best players soon, as Manny Machado charged the mound and punched Royals starter Yordano Ventura during Baltimore’s 9-1 victory Tuesday night.

Ventura twice threw inside during Machado’s at-bat in the second inning, and the players exchanged words. In the fifth, Machado took a 99 mph fastball square in the back, and he immediately went out to get revenge. Machado landed a right to Ventura’s face before the pitcher tackled him. The benches emptied and order was restored, with Machado being restrained by teammate Chris Tillman.

“I don’t regret anything,” Machado said. “When somebody’s throwing 99 at you, it’s going to hurt. You can ruin someone’s career. You don’t think in that situation. You just react to it.”

Ventura claimed the wayward pitch was accidental and said Machado did not help his reputation with his reaction.

“Everybody knows what kind of player he is,” Ventura said through an interpreter. “One just got away and he came at me, and I have to defend myself at that point.”

Ventura said he does not believe there should be suspensions, but Machado seemed resigned to his fate.

“You got to deal with the consequences once you cross that line,” the young Orioles star said.

— Former NBA center Sean Rooks, who was an assistant coach for the 76ers until last month, died Tuesday at the age of 46 after apparently collapsing while having dinner at a Philadelphia restaurant.

“It is with a profound deal of sadness that we mourn the sudden loss of a beloved son, father and friend, Sean Rooks. Words simply cannot express the heartbreak and shock our entire organization is feeling over this loss,” 76ers co-managing owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer said in a statement from the team.

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Tuesday’s Morning Mashup: MMA star Kimbo Slice dies at 42

06.07.16 at 8:23 am ET
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Welcome to Tuesday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

MLB: Red Sox at Giants, 10:15 p.m. (NESN; WEEI-FM)
MLB: Mets at Pirates, 4:05 p.m. (ESPN2)
MLB: Indians at Mariners, 10 p.m. (MLB Network)
College softball: World Series championship, Oklahoma vs. Auburn, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Soccer: Copa America, United States vs. Costa Rica, 8 p.m. (FS1)
Soccer: Copa America, Colombia vs. Paraguay, 10:30 p.m. (FS1)
WNBA: Mercury at Lynx, 8 p.m. (NBA TV)
WNBA: Liberty at Sparks, 10 p.m. (ESPN2)


Kimbo Slice returned to MMA last year after a five-year absence. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

Kimbo Slice returned to MMA last year after a five-year absence. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

— The mixed martial arts world was in shock Monday when Kimbo Slice, one of the most recognizable faces in the sport, died at the age of 42.

According to reports out of Florida, Slice was taken to a hospital near his home in Coral Springs with what authorities described as a “medical issue.” There was a report that he died of heart failure, but no official cause of death was released. Police said no foul play is suspected.

Slice returned to the octagon in February after a five-year absence and beat Dada 5000, aka Dhafir Harris, with a third-round knockout, but the result was overturned after Slice tested positive for steroids. He was scheduled to fight James Thompson next month in London as part of Bellator 158.

“We are all shocked and saddened by the devastating and untimely loss of Kimbo Slice,” Belabor CEO Scott Coker said. “One of the most popular MMA fighters ever, Kimbo was a charismatic, larger-than-life personality that transcended the sport. Outside of the cage he was a friendly, gentle giant and a devoted family man. His loss leaves us all with extremely heavy hearts.”

Slice, whose real name was Kevin Ferguson, was born in the Bahamas and grew up in the Miami area. He was a bouncer and bodyguard when he became famous in the early 2000s via online videos of his success in unsanctioned street fights. He went on to compete in professional MMA, going 5-2 and becoming a headliner for his intimidating appearance and powerful punching ability.

During his break from MMA, he embarked on a boxing career, going 7-0 with six knockouts from 2011-13.

“He carried himself as a true professional during his time in our organization,” the UFC said in a statement. “While he will never be forgotten for his fighting style and transcendent image, Slice will also be remembered for his warm personality and commitment to his family and friends.”

— While most of the Denver media was focused on Aqib Talib, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg, there was another notable absence from the Super Bowl champions’ visit to the White House on Monday.

Brock Osweiler, now a member of the Texans, explained his decision to skip Monday’s festivities was based on his new team’s practice schedule.

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Monday’s Morning Mashup: Dodgers DFA ‘frustrated’ OF Carl Crawford with $35M remaining on contract

06.06.16 at 8:18 am ET
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Welcome to Monday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins at Sharks, 8 p.m. (NBC)
MLB: Cubs at Phillies, 7:05 p.m. (ESPN2)
Soccer: Copa America, Panama vs. Bolivia, 7 p.m. (FS1)
Soccer: Copa America, Argentina vs. Chile, 10 p.m. (FS1)


Carl Crawford

Carl Crawford

— Carl Crawford’s fall from grace — which began in 2011 after he signed an enormous free agent contract with the Red Sox — hit bottom with a thud Sunday, as the outfielder was designated for assignment by the Dodgers.

The 34-year-old, hitting .185 with no home runs and six RBIs in 30 games this season, has $35 million remaining on his contract over the next two seasons.

Crawford was a four-time All-Star with the Rays who won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2010, but after he joined the Red Sox his performance tanked immediately and dramatically and he struggled to stay healthy. He was shipped to the Dodgers during the 2012 season and his injury woes continued, as he made trips to the disabled list every season in Los Angeles. He had a brief resurgence in 2013, hitting .320 with four home runs in 10 postseason games as the Dodgers reached the National League Championship Series.

He was back on the disabled list this April with lower back tightness.

“He’s frustrated because his body is not letting him produce the way he used to, but Father Time catches up with everyone,” manager Dave Roberts said.

With some promising young players ready for playing time, the Dodgers cut ties with Crawford and called up catcher/infielder Austin Barnes, who was hitting .306 in the minors.

“[Crawford has] worked really hard and played really hard, and ultimately that takes a toll on your body,” said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who was general manager of the Rays during most of Crawford’s time in Tampa. “We just felt we had gotten to a point where this was what made the most sense.”

Added Friedman: “It’s never as easy thing to do, but not surprisingly, he was a tremendous pro about it. It’s definitely not from a lack of work ethic. Carl was one of the most dynamic players in baseball. Just an elite athlete, really good bat-to-ball skills, tremendous defender.”

— Ryan Howard has become a target for many Phillies fans, as the former MVP is batting just .151 in 49 games this season. On Saturday, he was the target of a fan who threw a beer bottle as he walked toward the dugout after making the final out in a 6-3 loss to the Brewers.

The bottle landed hear Howard’s feet, and he informed a security guard. The team said it was investigating.

“I turned around, and it was down near my feet,” Howard said (via “I don’t play that. To me, that’s crossing the line. It becomes a security issue. It’s not necessary. That stuff infuriates me.”

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‘The Greatest of All Time’ Muhammad Ali dies at 74

06.04.16 at 9:16 am ET
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One of the most influential athletes of all time, boxer Muhammad Ali, passed away Friday night at the age of 74. Ali had been battling Parkinson’s disease for the past 32 years.

For a complete retrospective of Ali’s life and career, click here.

The funeral for Ali will be held in his hometown of Louisville, KY.

Thinking Out Loud: Bryant, URI headline 5 New England baseball teams in NCAAs

06.03.16 at 5:50 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Jim Foster and Charlie Hickey?

— Record-setting? Better believe it. Bryant baseball is traveling where no Bulldog has barked before, as a No. 2 seed at the NCAA regional in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend. The Northeast Conference champs won a nation-leading 47 games during the regular season and are playing in their third regional tournament over the past four years.

— Not for nuthin’, but did I mention best winning percentage and best run-differential (beating opponents by about five runs per game) in the country, too? Didn’t think so. Not bad for a team that scooped baseballs out of 6-foot snow drifts while several opponents prepped for the season in the relative warmth south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

— The star of this “Can You Top That?” act just might be URI’s baseball team, as the Rams steamrolled through the Atlantic-10 tournament by a combined 38-7 over three games. The Rams are in their second-ever NCAA appearance (and first since 2005), playing as the No. 4 seed at the regional in Columbia, South Carolina.

— It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Two plane tickets to South Carolina to watch the Rams make history? $677. Two plane tickets to Virginia to see the Bulldogs try to beat a national title contender? $746. The chance to watch two baseball teams from Rhode Island in the NCAA Tournament in the same year? It’s never happened before. Priceless.

— There’s a true Rhode Island flavor sprinkled throughout the NCAA field this year, beyond just Bryant and URI. Fairfield features Brendan Tracy from Providence’s LaSalle Academy, with the Stags playing at Texas Tech. UConn, winner of the American Athletic Conference Tournament, plays at Georgia Tech with a former Hendricken Hawk, John Toppa, second on the Huskies in hitting (.314).

— Would now be a good time to mention I used to coach Tracy in the Rumford (Rhode Island) Little League? Just sayin’.

— Lest we forget, another former Hendricken star — Reed Gamache — leads America East champ Binghamton at Texas A&M this weekend. The senior second baseman hit .367 for the Bearcats and was a candidate for Player of the Year in America East, hitting just under .400 in conference play.

— Oh. Right. Boston College baseball made it, too, as an at-large selection from the ACC. That’s five New England teams among the field of 64 in the NCAA Tournament — another first — on the road to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series.

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