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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Beckham confronts fan in home return with Galaxy

CARSON, Calif. -- Boos rained down and fans sent negative messages with their homemade signs. Things sure got ugly when David Beckham came back to town.

Beckham downplayed the rough reception in his first home game with the Los Angeles Galaxy, a 2-2 tie with AC Milan in which his corner kick set up his team's second goal, although his halftime confrontation with a fan indicated otherwise Sunday night.

"I'm not disappointed. It doesn't affect me," he said. "You can't be liked by everyone."

Anti-Beckham sentiment ran high as the English star returned after missing half of the Major League Soccer season while on a five-month loan to the Italian club. He was the target of frequent booing and derisive banners held up in a corner of the stadium, where one of the team's fan groups sits.

The signs all had messages directed at Beckham. "Go home fraud" read one, with a red slash through his No. 23 jersey number. Another said, "23: Repent," while another read, "Hey Becks, Here Before You, Here After You, Here Despite You." Another read, "Is evil something u are...or something u do."

At halftime, Beckham walked toward the L.A. Riot Squad section and motioned to a fan to come closer. A man jumped down from the seats and was subdued by security before being taken away.

"One of the guys was saying things that wasn't very nice. It was stepping over the line," Beckham said. "I said, 'You need to calm down and come shake my hand,' and he jumped over."

The man was arrested by Cal State Dominguez Hills police for trespassing because he left the seating area, a Home Depot Center spokeswoman said.

"I know there was some turmoil in the corner but I didn't see it so I can't comment," Galaxy manager Bruce Arena said. "Obviously, there were some dissenters in the early going but I think he won over a lot of people by the end."

Beckham was the last player to take the field after halftime. He hugged several of his former AC Milan teammates and then turned toward the rowdy fan section and clapped his hands before making a gesture.

The banners weren't displayed as often in the second half, when a line of yellow-jacketed security personnel stood below the fans.

"A lot of people predicted this kind of reaction," Beckham said.

In the 65th minute, Beckham walked toward the fan section to take a corner kick. He sent a bending kick at Bryan Jordan, who headed the ball in from 7 feet to tie the game 2-2.

Beckham didn't join in the play. Instead, he turned and faced the fans who had been riding him all game and spread both arms wide as if to say, "What do you want?" He then gestured before walking away.

"Sometimes the supporters don't understand the situation," AC Milan coach Leonardo said.

Beckham left the game in the 75th minute and clapped his hands as he walked off to a mix of boos and cheers. He waved to fans offering a smattering of cheers in an opposite corner before sitting on the bench.

"The cheers in the end drowned out the boos, which was nice," he said.

It marked the end of a rough week for Beckham that began with him and team captain Landon Donovan accusing each other of being unprofessional. Donovan sparked the dispute with comments he made in a new book "The Beckham Experiment."

Arena mediated the clash during a sit down with both players, who later said they had patched things up.

"That's beyond my control," Donovan said when asked about the crowd's reaction to Beckham.

AC Milan dressed a half-strength lineup as it began a four-game preseason tour of the U.S. The seven-time European champions visited the Galaxy as part of the deal that allowed Beckham to remain on loan with Milan through the end of the Serie A season on May 31.

"You don't want to look silly and we definitely didn't look silly," he said about the Galaxy's play.

Beckham has said he again wants to return to Milan after the MLS season.

"We would be happy if he came back because he did really well. He's incredible," Leonardo said. "The precision he has is something very, very special. He never missed the ball. He controlled the ball. The way the Galaxy plays is very, very important. They see that every ball begins with him."

Thiago Silva put AC Milan ahead 1-0 in the 16th minute. The Galaxy tied the game in the 30th minute on a goal by Alan Gordon, assisted by Donovan and Beckham.

The Rossoneri took a 2-1 lead in the 61st minute when Filippo Inzaghi scored against Galaxy backup goalie Josh Saunders off assists by Mathieu Flamini and Ronaldinho.

"He was integral in both goals," Donovan said about Beckham. "There's not another player on a team in this league that can make those plays. It was an exciting game."

Beckham will play six more regular-season home games.

Earlier this year, Beckham said he wanted to remain with the Italian club rather than return to the Galaxy because he believed the level of play was much better in Europe and would help him achieve his goal of playing for England in the 2010 World Cup.

"If it's possible, I think it could be a very good thing for us," Leonardo said about getting Beckham back. "He knows everyone. Everyone loves him in our club."

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Roethlisberger denies civil allegations of sexual assault

Posted by Mike Florio

NFL_roethlisberger2.jpgIn a complaint that reads like the rape allegations made several years ago against NBA star Kobe Bryant, Harrah's employee Andrea McNulty alleges sexual assault against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a lawsuit filed last week in Washoe County, Nevada.

But lawyer David Cornwell strongly denied the allegations Monday night, in a statement released to PFT. "Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone; especially Andrea McNulty," Cornwell said.

In the civil suit, which Cornwell confirms was served on Roethlisberger over the weekend and a copy of which our own Gregg Rosenthal has obtained, McNulty alleges that Roethlisberger asked her to come to his hotel room to fix the television, and that he thereafter forced her to have sex with him.

Roethlisberger faces one civil count of assault, one civil count of sexual assault and battery, one civil count of false imprisonment, one civil count of false pretenses, one civil count of fraud, and one civil count of intentonal infliction of emtional distress.

McNulty also claims that the coworkers named in the complaint thereafter defamed her by making allegedly false and inflammatory statements, and by allegedly serving as aiders and abettors of Roethlisberger's alleged misconduct after the fact.

Cornwell, a finalist for the position of NFLPA Executive Director who has represented in the recent past Saints running back Reggie Bush and Browns receiver Donte' Stallworth, points to the fact that no criminal complaint has been filed, and that no criminal investigation has occurred.

"The timing of the lawsuit and the absence of a criminal complaint and a criminal investigation are the most compelling evidence of the absence of any criminal conduct," Cornwell said. "If an investigation is commenced, Ben will cooperate fully and Ben will be fully exonerated."

It's unknown at this point whether McNulty ever has attempted to file criminal charges as a result of the incident, which allegedly occurred in July 2008.

"Ben will not be baited into a public discussion about his personal life, but we will defend
him vigorously," Cornwell said. "The limited value that Ms. McNulty derived from public disclosure of these viciously false allegations is the only value she will ever receive from Ben in this case."

Regardless of how this one turns out, it has the potential to serve as a significant distraction for Roethlisberger as the 2009 season approaches, especially if the lawsuit triggers a criminal probe.

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South Florida kicker Bonani falls 35 feet from Busch Gardens ride

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- A University of South Florida football player was recovering at a hospital after falling 35 feet from a gondola ride while working at Busch Gardens in Tampa, team officials said.

Team officials identified the player as Maikon Bonani, 20, USF's starting kicker. The park did not immediately release the employee's name or the extent of his injuries, said spokeswoman Jill Revelle.

The employee was working Saturday at the Skyride attraction. After sending passengers on a gondola out of the station, the employee thought the door might be unlocked and held onto the door to check it while guests sat on the ride, according to a park statement. He held on as the gondola took off -- then 35 feet above the ground -- let go and dropped into a landscaped area, the statement added.

"He was trying to make sure they were safe," said Revelle of those on the ride. She added that no one else was injured.

Park management was reviewing safety procedures. No further information was released Sunday by the park.

Revelle said the employee was responsive but taken to a hospital as a precaution. He was listed in fair condition at St. Joseph's Hospital.

USF football coach Jim Leavitt told the St. Petersburg Times that he spoke to Bonani by phone and later visited him. Leavitt said Bonani may have injured his vertebra.

"He's in pain, but doing fine and resting," Leavitt said.

Bonani grew up in Brazil and moved with his family to Lake Wales in Polk County at age 11, the Times reported. He learned English when he was 11, and played football, soccer and tennis in high school. He was valedictorian of his senior class, the newspaper said.

There was no phone number listed for a Maikon Bonani of Lake Wales.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press.

MMA's 10 best pound-for-pound fighters

This is a big summer for MMA's pound-for-pound big three.

Georges St. Pierre was first on deck at UFC 100 and made his case as to why he should be seen as the sport's top pound-for-pound fighter. Throwing even more dirt on his April 2007 loss to Matt Serra, St. Pierre dominated another elite challenger in Thiago Alves for the balance of 25 minutes. St. Pierre's victory was so consummate that it left many wondering if it was worth his time and talent to stick around at 170 pounds.

The next move belongs to heavyweight ruler Fedor Emelianenko, who will finally square off with Josh Barnett at Affliction "Trilogy" on Aug. 1 in a bid to prove he's the sport's supreme being. A week later, at UFC 101, incumbent king Anderson Silva will have his chance to answer his fellow pound-for-pound stalwarts when he looks to add a third division of brilliance to his career résumé in a super fight against former UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin.

UFC middleweight champion
Record: 24-4

With another brilliant performance from Georges St. Pierre, and another top heavyweight on the slate for Fedor Emelianenko, the pressure is on Silva to prove he is, in fact, the sport's pound-for-pound king. At UFC 101 on Aug. 8, his 205-pound bout with Forrest Griffin will afford him a unique opportunity: A win over the former UFC light heavyweight champion would make Silva the first man in the sport's history with top-five-caliber victories across three weight classes. He started his career as a standout welterweight before becoming the most dominant middleweight in mixed martial arts history.

UFC welterweight champion
Record: 19-2

On paper, Thiago Alves was supposed to be St. Pierre's most dangerous challenger to date in the welterweight division. However, "Rush" dealt with Alves just as he has dealt with other elite welterweights, as he dominated him from bell to bell in an impressively one-sided unanimous-decision win over yet another top opponent. St. Pierre's performance was such that many have started to question whether or not a move to middleweight should be in the cards. However, the next challenger for the sport's welterweight ruler will come from either Mike Swick or Martin Kampmann, who will square off in a title eliminator at UFC 103 in September.

Affliction heavyweight champion
Record: 30-1, 1 NC

Emelianenko's long-awaited bout with Josh Barnett will headline Affliction "Trilogy" on Aug. 1. Though many have criticized the relative dearth of top heavyweight talent and Emelianenko's opponent selection as knocks against his pound-for-pound status, his fight with Barnett will mark the Russian's third consecutive match against a top-10 former UFC heavyweight champion. However, in unfortunate news for MMA's heavyweight king, the fan-proposed guerilla tactic of chanting Emelianenko's name at UFC 100 never got off the ground.

UFC light heavyweight champion
Record: 15-0

With his brilliant display of dominance in capturing the UFC light heavyweight title and the 205-pound mantle in May, Machida had already built instant anticipation for a showdown with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. However, Jackson instead opted for a second coaching stint on "The Ultimate Fighter," which will set up a bout with Rashad Evans. Yet in a testament to the depth of the UFC and the 205-pound division itself, consensus "Fighter of the Year" Mauricio "Shogun" Rua emerged as Plan B for Machida's first UFC title defense at UFC 104 in October.

WEC bantamweight champion
Record: 37-1

There's little rest for a king, and bantamweight ruler Torres is proof positive. After emerging victorious in his thrilling 25-minute war with Takeya Mizugaki in April, Torres will take on undefeated challenger Brian Bowles at WEC 43 on Aug. 9. That show will also feature a de facto title eliminator between hot up-and-comers Joseph Benavidez and Dominick Cruz, the winner of which figures to meet Torres before the year ends -- just like clockwork.

WEC featherweight champion
Record: 22-4

Of any pound-for-pound entrant on this list, Brown may be the least vibrant and least tailor-made for stardom. However, the 33-year-old American Top Teamer remains, without question, the king of the 145-pound world, and reaffirmed it in June when he earned a second win over Urijah Faber. Despite gritting out a 25-minute unanimous verdict over The California Kid, Brown's biggest test may be yet to come. His next title challenger come November will be brutal Brazilian dynamo Jose Aldo, possibly the most dangerous fighter the division can offer.

UFC light heavyweight
Record: 30-7

Many fans and critics still see Jackson through the prism of July 2008 vehicular insanity. However, whatever poor judgment he has exercised outside the cage, inside it Jackson is 4-1 against five straight top-10 opponents in one of MMA's deepest divisions. Now, the colorful and charismatic 205-pound standout will captain his second squad of TUFers on Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," which will lead up to a high-profile December showdown with fellow former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans.

UFC lightweight champion
Record: 13-5-1

Talent has never been lacking in Penn, only his desire and focus. His desire to move back up to 170 pounds to challenge Georges St. Pierre in January was not only unsuccessful; it also put the UFC's lightweight class on an extended hiatus. However, the division is poised to get back on track come Aug. 8, when, at UFC 101, Penn will take on a top-five challenger, Kenny Florian, in the second defense of his lightweight mantle.

UFC light heavyweight
Record: 13-1-1

The first defense of Evans' UFC light heavyweight belt in May was disastrous, as he was dominated from pillar to post by Lyoto Machida. Fortunately for the Greg Jackson pupil, he remains in a star-laden and talent-rich division. Better still, Evans' comeback fight will come in a high-profile showdown against a fellow pound-for-pound entrant, as he will take on fellow "The Ultimate Fighter 10" coach Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in December.

UFC welterweight
Record: 19-3, 1 NC

Though seldom flashy, Fitch wins. By gritting out a unanimous verdict over tougher-than-expected and previously unbeaten Brazilian Paulo Thiago at UFC 100, Fitch upped his record in the UFC to an impressive 10-1. More importantly, those 11 fights have come in arguably MMA's deepest and most talented division. He might not ever make "SportsCenter's" Top 10, but he will likely remain in the welterweight top 10 and keep on beating elite opponents for a good while.

With Fitch's win over Paulo Thiago and Thiago Alves' loss to Georges St. Pierre, the formerly ninth-ranked Alves falls just outside the top 10.

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Pujols pushing for Triple Crown history

Kurkjian By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine

Albert Pujols has won two MVP awards and is shooting for a third this season. He also is unanimously considered the best player in baseball, and now he has a chance to win the Triple Crown.

There's a reason no one has won the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski accomplished the feat in 1967 and, in the National League, since Joe Medwick in 1937: It's really hard to do, perhaps harder than ever.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
Rich Kane/Icon SMIAlbert Pujols has 10 more home runs than the next-closest player in the National League.

How hard? It has been done only 13 times since 1900: Nap Lajoie (1901), Ty Cobb (1909), Rogers Hornsby (1922 and '25) Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein (1933), Lou Gehrig (1934), Medwick (1937), Ted Williams (1942 and '47), Mickey Mantle (1956), Frank Robinson (1966) and Yastrzemski. There's no Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Willie Mays or Hank Aaron on that list.

For Robinson, it was the only season during his brilliant career in which he led his league in any of the Triple Crown categories. Since Yastrzemski won it, a player has won two legs of the Triple Crown in the same season 40 times, but no player has won the batting average and home run title in one season. And only four times has anyone won the batting title and RBI title in the same season: Joe Torre (1971), Al Oliver (1982), Todd Helton (2000) and Matt Holliday (2007).

Since Yaz won the Triple Crown, only four players have won all three legs of the Triple Crown in separate seasons during their careers: Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Andres Galarraga. Mike Piazza, one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever and the greatest-hitting catcher of all time, never finished first in any of the Triple Crown categories. Neither has Vladimir Guerrero. Frank Thomas, a two-time MVP, and one of the best right-handed hitters ever, won one batting title. Even Pujols has won only one of the categories, a batting title in 2003.

That season was one of the relatively close calls for the Triple Crown. Pujols led the league in hitting; his 43 home runs tied for fourth in the league, four short of the leader; and his 124 RBIs were tied for fourth, 17 shy of the leader. George Foster made a run in 1977, as did Larry Walker in 1997, Helton in 2000 and Gary Sheffield in 1992 when he led the NL in hitting, was second in home runs with 33 (two behind the leader) and finished fifth in RBIs (nine off the leader). The closest call was Dick Allen in 1972, when he led the AL in home runs (37) and RBIs (113), and his .308 average was third, 10 points behind Rod Carew's.

The reason it has gotten harder to win the Triple Crown is that the game has become more specialized every year. There are hitters who have sacrificed power for a high average, such as Carew, Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn, who won a combined 20 batting titles after Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown. There are hitters who have sacrificed their averages to hit for power, such as Ryan Howard. And there are so many more teams and more hitters in today's game that the competition is perhaps stronger than it has ever been. Mike Schmidt won eight home run titles, but in this decade, seven different National League players have won a home run title, eight different NL players have won a batting title and seven different American League players have won an RBI crown. Sammy Sosa had more 60-homer seasons (three) than he had home run titles (two). Bonds has the most homers of all time but only two home run titles.

It has grown harder to win the Triple Crown because of the Rockies, who joined the NL in 1993 and play in the greatest hitters' ballpark of all time. In their brief history, they have had six batting champions, six RBI champions and three home run champions. Compare their history to that of the White Sox, who have been in the AL since 1900 but have only three batting champions, three home run champs and one RBI champ.

Pujols is up against history and the odds during the second half of the season. But he leads his league in average, home runs and RBIs since the 2008 All-Star break and is the fourth player, joining Aaron (1957), Tony Perez (1970) and Bonds (1993), to lead from break to break since Mantle's Triple Crown year in 1956. Now comes the hard part for Pujols -- leading from April until October. But for Pujols, who is behind in the batting race by 12 points as of Sunday's games, his task is even more formidable given that he's trailing a great hitter, Hanley Ramirez.

But Pujols has a shot to win the Triple Crown. Very few hitters in history have had that.

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