Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson
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Pelicans owner Gayle Benson’s New Orleans Saints allegedly helped Catholic church with PR amid sexual-abuse scandal

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints are going to court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives doing public-relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to help it contain the fallout from a burgeoning sexual-abuse crisis.

Attorneys for about two dozen men suing the church say in court filings that the 276 documents they obtained through discovery show that the NFL team, whose owner – New Orleans Pelicans owner Gayle Benson – is devoutly Catholic, aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”

“Obviously, the Saints should not be in the business of assisting the Archdiocese, and the Saints’ public relations team is not in the business of managing the public relations of criminals engaged in pedophilia,” the attorneys wrote in a court filing. “The Saints realize that if the documents at issue are made public, this professional sports organization also will be smearing itself.”

Saints attorneys, in court papers, disputed any suggestion that the team helped the church cover up crimes, calling such claims “outrageous.” They further said that the emails, exchanged in 2018 and 2019, were intended to be private and should not be “fodder for the public.” The archdiocese is also fighting the release of the emails.

Ties between local church leaders and the Saints include a close friendship between New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Gayle Benson, who inherited the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team when her husband, Tom Benson, died in 2018. The archbishop was at Gayle Benson’s side as she walked in the funeral procession.

Gayle Benson has given millions of dollars to Catholic institutions in the New Orleans area, and the archbishop is a regular guest of hers at games and charitable events for the church.

The Saints and Pelicans share staff, including Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel.

Attorneys for the men suing the church say “multiple” Saints personnel, including Bensel, used their team email to advise church officials on “messaging” and how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of a list of clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

“The information at issue bears a relationship to these crimes because it is a continuation of the Archdiocese’s pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote. “And the Saints joined in.”

The Associated Press, which has extensively covered clergy sexual abuse in a series of stories over the past year, filed a motion with the court supporting the release of the documents as a matter of public interest.

“This case does not involve intensely private individuals who are dragged into the spotlight,” the AP argued, “but well-known mega-institutions that collect millions of dollars from local residents to support their activities.”

A court-appointed special master is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential.

A Saints spokeswoman Friday said team officials had no comment.

Attorneys for the Saints acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure — “the opposite of concealment.”

A handful of Saints emails that emerged last year in the clergy abuse litigation included an October 2018 exchange in which Bensel asked an archdiocese spokeswoman whether there might be “a benefit to saying we support a victims right to pursue a remedy through the courts.”

“I don’t think we want to say we ‘support’ victims going to the courts,” Sarah McDonald, the archdiocese’s communications director, replied, “but we certainly encourage them to come forward.”

The fight over the emails is part of a flurry of claims filed against the archdiocese over its employment of George F. Brignac, a longtime schoolteacher and deacon who was removed from the ministry in 1988 after a 7-year-old boy accused him of fondling him at a Christmas party. That accusation followed claims that Briganc abused several other boys, including one case that led to his acquittal in 1978 on three counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Church officials permitted Brignac, 85, to act as a lay minister until local news accounts of his service in 2018 prompted his ouster and an apology from the archdiocese. The AP last year reported that Brignac, despite his supposed defrocking, also maintained access to schoolchildren and held leadership roles as recently as 2018 in the Knights of Columbus.

Following a new wave of publicity — in which Brignac told a reporter he had touched boys but never for “immoral purposes” — Brignac was indicted last month on a rape charge that could land him behind bars for the rest of his life. The prosecution came more than a year after a former altar boy told police that Brignac repeatedly raped him beginning in the late 1970s. Police said the abuse began when the boy was 7 and continued until he was 11.

The archdiocese, meanwhile, has settled several lawsuits against Brignac and included the former deacon in the list of more than 50 names it released in late 2018 of “credibly accused” clergy.

A lawyer for the archdiocese said earlier this month that the plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking the release of the Saints emails were engaged in a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse.”

The attorney, E. Dirk Wegmann, told the special master that the plaintiffs only want the Saints emails released so they can give them to the media and “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”

The National Football League, which was advised of the matter by plaintiffs’ attorneys because the Saints’ emails used the team’s nfl.com domain, has not commented on the case. NFL policy says everyone who is a part of the league must refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL.

Fans to be refunded for Team USA-Australia games last summer

Team USA-Australia
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Russell Crowe disliked his view for the Team USA-Australia exhibition games in Melbourne last August.

He wasn’t the only one.

Many fans griped about the sightlines from their floor-level seats. Even Australia upsetting the U.S. in a pre-World Cup tune-up didn’t satiate the Boomer fans who wanted a better look at the action – and paid plenty for their seats.

But those fans will get compensated.

Jake Michaels of ESPN:

Around AU$5 million ($3.08 million U.S.) will be refunded to spectators of last year’s Boomers vs. Team USA two-game series at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium after the Australian consumer watchdog found that promoter TEG Live made false claims about its seating plan.

The 20,000 refunds will be paid out to those who purchased floor-level seating for the games. Despite a mock-up depicting tiered seating, the seats used were in flat rows, lower than the court and, in some cases, more than 30 metres from the action.

That comes to $154 per ticket – not cheap for an exhibition game.

Now, who do American fans see about restitution for their team not meeting expected standards?

2020 PBT Awards: Executive of the Year

Clippers executive Lawrence Frank with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu
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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

2. Sam Presti, Thunder

3. Danny Ainge, Celtics

Lawrence Frank gets his name called but the Clippers operate more like a team in the front office than a top-down dictatorship. Michael Winger, Mark Hughes, Jerry West, Trent Redden, Lee Jenkins, Dee Brown and the rest of the team pulled off the incredible Kawhi Leonard/Paul George double last July and around that have built the deepest, most dangerous roster in the NBA. Maybe Frank can write up a report for Jason Kidd on how he pulled all this off. Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti also deserves credit for pivoting and lining up a rebuild while keeping the Thunder a winning and competitive team on the court.

Dan Feldman

1. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

2. Sam Presti, Thunder

3. Pat Riley, Heat

Oklahoma City improved… while adding an incredible haul of future draft picks. Sam Presti had a special summer. But the game is winning championships, and the Clippers went from feisty upstart to title contender by completing an ambitious plan to add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Maybe the Clippers will never win a championship. Perhaps, the Thunder set themselves up to win multiple titles down the road. But the Clippers’ big strides took them far closer to the finish line, and I’ll reward the more-known quantity.

Pat Riley got third place primarily on two moves – improving from mediocre to quite good by landing Jimmy Butler and creating significant salary-cap flexibility in the Justise WinslowAndre Iguodala trade. That topped Nets general manager Sean Marks, who lured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but faced complications in overseeing his team’s new direction.

Keith Smith

1. Jon Horst, Bucks

2. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

3. Sam Presti, Thunder

For a second straight year, Jon Horst put together a dominant and deep team. Milwaukee lost Malcolm Brogdon, but got a first-round pick for a free agent. That’s solid work. He also re-signed Khris Middleton, George Hill and Brook Lopez to fair contracts. And around them Horst added Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Kyle Korver and Marvin Williams to fill out the roster. Milwaukee goes 13-deep in legitimate rotation players for the team with the league’s best record.

Lawrence Frank built the Clippers on the fly. When Kawhi Leonard said he’d sign if LA traded for Paul George, Frank didn’t hesitate and made it happen. Frank also re-signed Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green, while adding Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson in- season. The result is a team that is 10-deep in playoff players and one of the Western Conference favorites.

When the Thunder traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook, it was assumed that Sam Presti would eventually move Chris Paul too. Instead, Oklahoma City has been one of the league’s best surprises. All of the trade acquisitions have played a big part in that. Paul has had another great season Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari have turned in good years. And rookies Darius Bazley and Luguentz Dort look like keepers too. Oh, and Presti has up to seven extra first-round picks and a couple of years of swap rights coming too.

Ben Wallace not sure Pistons would have won titles if they drafted Carmelo over Darko

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Carmelo Anthony said recently if the Detroit Pistons had drafted him No. 2 instead of Darko Miličić, he would have won two or three titles. Chauncy Billups agreed with him.

Ben Wallace isn’t buying it.

Wallace appeared on the on the 120 Watts podcast and said if the Pistons had taken Anthony the team would have developed differently and might have come together in a way that it did not win a title in 2004 or any others (hat tip to NBA Reddit):

“If we would’ve drafted Carmelo, I honestly don’t think we would have ever won a championship. Melo wanted to play right away. It would have had the potential to disrupt the team chemistry… By drafting Darko, he came in and said that he is not ready to play on this team. Who I am going to play in front of. I’m not ready, and by him doing that and accepting his role, it allowed us to build and grow and get stronger and eventually win a championship…

“If we drafted Carmelo, Tayshaun [Prince] wouldn’t blossom to be the type of a player that he way. We won that championship on the back of the best block I’ve ever seen in my life, and I blocked a lot of shots. That is the type of grit and grind that the team had.”

It’s an interesting point and Wallace is right about this: We never know how a team would have developed differently if ‘Melo had been a Piston. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked, perhaps it would have thrown off the team chemistry and softened up that elite defense.

Still, put me in “the more talent the better” camp. Anthony is a future Hall of Famer who came into the league knowing how to get buckets. That Pistons team had some of the greatest defenses the league has ever seen, but the question was always could they score enough. Anthony would have had to accept more of a role, but he fills that scoring need. And, on a team of players he respects, Anthony is willing to play his part.

Count me with the group that thinks the Pistons win more with ‘Melo than they did with Darko. Or, frankly, Chris Bosh (fourth in that draft). Or Dwyane Wade (fifth). But the Pistons made their bet and they still got a ring.

NBA coaches use break to prepare for possible playoff matchups

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — With NBA games indefinitely on hold, there has been a lot of discussion about postseason possibilities — including by coaches around the league.

They’re preparing for what a resumption of the season that was shut down March 11 could look like in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse said he’s trying to prepare for every possibility that would allow the Raptors a chance to defend their title.

“We’re ready for whatever is thrown at us,” Nurse said recently during a conference call with reporters. “I don’t think it really matters. What matters is that we attack the title in whatever format it’s going to be presented in and we go for it.”

No one knows what will be thrown at the NBA or the rest of the sports world. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising against large gatherings make the calendar a major factor in how the league could resume its season.

The ideas are many, from a shortened version of the remaining schedule played without fans to the very real possibility of jumping straight into the playoffs to ensure a season is completed before the end of summer.

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said he has spent part of this hiatus studying the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets — the Bucks’ two most likely first-round playoff foes — as well as other Eastern Conference teams.

Nurse had already begun thinking postseason before the season was suspended.

“When we hit March 1, we’ve got a kind of playoff prepping plan thing that kicks in,” the Raptors coach said. “We spread the teams around our staff members and they prepare a pretty detailed couple of hour video sessions.

“They would normally come into my office and start showing that to me one-on-one. It’s a two-hour video that we go through probably in about three hours on certain teams in the East and then a handful of them in the West as well.

“The coaches were started in on that already and they’ll continue on that. The only difference is there’s no real one-one-one time with me yet. They’ll probably just have to send me their edit and then I’ll just have to watch them and talk to them on the phone.”

If the NBA resumes the season with the start of the postseason, Nurse and Toronto would be the No. 2 seed in the East and would host No. 7 Brooklyn. Other matchups would be: No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 8 Orlando; No. 3 Boston vs No. 6 Philadelphia; and No. 4 Miami vs No. 5 Indiana.

In the West: No. 1 LA Lakers vs No. 8 Memphis; No. 2 LA Clippers vs No. 7 Dallas; No. 3 Denver vs No. 6 Houston; No. 4 Utah vs No. 5 Oklahoma City.

As good as the matchups look on paper, the play could be sloppy.

Celtics center Enes Kanter estimates it would take at least two to three weeks for players to get their bodies in game shape. Part of the reason, he said, is the time players have had away from the court.

Kanter believes a training camp-like period would probably be needed.

“You can’t just say ‘OK, we’re going to play the games a week later.’ Some players are doing some things. Some players are in their apartments not doing anything,” Kanter said during a conference call. “We need to make sure everybody is doing their stuff and is in good shape to go out there and compete if we jump straight into playoffs.”

Kanter said a training camp setting would also help players refocus. He said while he’s staying in shape, he’s also spending time reading, watching documentaries and teaching himself to cook and play the piano.

It’s clear time is not the NBA’s friend.

Monday marked the 26th day of the shutdown, a stoppage that has already cost the league more than 100 games. And the CDC is recommending that no in-person events involving 10 or more people be held through the end of April as the U.S. fights the spread of the pandemic. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday the league would not make any decisions about resuming the season until May at the earliest.

Kanter said if a decision is made to jump straight to the postseason, he hopes the length of the series won’t be affected.

“We’re competitors, man. We want to go out there and push through and finish the season,” he said. “It’s crazy because we have a really good chance to go out there and get a championship. So, it’s like for sure you want to go out there and compete.”