TIME tennis

Gael Monfils Is the Most Interesting Guy in Tennis

2014 US Open - Day 9
Mike Stobe—USTA/Getty Images Gael Monfils of France returns a shot against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in their men's singles fourth round match on Day Nine of the 2014 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2014 in Queens.

He's looking to take down Roger Federer

During the first week of the U.S. Open, I made a point of getting out to Flushing Meadow to watch Gael Monfils play. It’s almost become an annual event for me. And Monfils was once again his entertaining self. There are better players in men’s tennis, to wit, five-time U.S. Open winner Roger Federer, the No. 2 seed who will face Monfils, seeded 20th, in the quarterfinals. But nobody is more fun to watch than this Frenchman, because nobody can combine such pure athleticism with the insouciance bordering on disdain he brings to the game. When I bumped into a USTA staffer I know and told him I’d gone to watch Monfils, there was a shake of the head. “Was he moping around again?” was the question.

Only if moping around means dancing deep across the backcourt and whacking everything he reaches — and he just about reaches everything, with a combination of power and dexterity that his fellow pros openly admire. The 6-ft. 4-in Monfils is a rare combination of pointillist and power—Seurat mounted on coiled springs. In his second round match against Alejandro Gonzalez, Monfils won game two of the second set with a leaping, crosscourt forehand from the right baseline corner that was clocked at 105 mph. Think of Johnny Manziel trying to throw an accurate 75-yard jump pass across his body. Monfils applauded his own work by twirling his index finger as if to say, “oui, that’s me.” Up 3-0 in the third set, he won the fourth game by running down a Gonzalez shot into the corner and hitting a paintbrush backhand down the line that had his opponent shaking his head at the incredible touch on display. Oh, and a decent 130 m.p.h. serve.

Monfils also has the temperament of an artist. He seems like he’s not always paying attention to things like winning. His changeover routine is to mumble while looking over the crowd and to sip from a can of Coke once he’s seated. C’est la vie, eh?

“For me, tennis is a sport, you know. It’s not a job, it’s a sport,” he said in a post-match interview Tuesday, having dispatched rising star Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-6, 7-5 to reach the quarters. He gave a couple of points away to Dimitrov, just because. “Sometime if I’m fed up with that, just leave it. For me, I don’t know if it’s bad to say it and for sure I will use like bad words in English, but it’s like, you know, don’t give a sheet.”

Rare among top pros, Monfils plays without a coach, meaning his strategy seems to be to do whatever. And fellow pros have criticized his game as too laid back when, given his height and speed, he should be attacking more. The don’t-give-a-sheet strategy has generally been good enough to get Monfils deep into Grand Slam tournaments, but never deep enough to win one. His best result: the semis at the French. But finding a coach that fits him hasn’t been easy, he says: “That person has to be — has to be, for me, like good, first of all, but has to be hard and also understand my personality. Because I don’t think I’m easy, but I think I’m quite a good worker.”

Monfils will have to be quite a good worker indeed to beat Federer, who is again looking like the flawless stroke machine that earned 17 major titles. Federer has beaten Monfils three times at Roland Garros, and more recently at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, but lost to him at the ATP Masters in Shanghai last year. Monfils says he is definitely looking forward to the match. Maybe he’ll win, if he gets a little lucky. Maybe not.

“It’s always great,” Monfils said, “because no matter what, I will say to my children, I played against him. Even [if] I kill him, you know. And this is cool.”

TIME Football

Michael Sam: Joining the Cowboys Is a ‘Dream Come True’

Hours after Sam was added to Dallas' practice squad

Michael Sam said Wednesday that joining the Dallas Cowboys is a “dream come true” hours after the team signed the openly gay defensive end and assigned him to a practice squad.

The Cowboys picked up Sam, the first openly gay person to be drafted into the National Football League, after he was dropped by the St. Louis Rams on Monday. Sam joined the Dallas Cowboys practice squad on Wednesday, according to the Cowboys website.

Sam is a Texas native who played college football at the University of Missouri.

Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday the decision to add Sam to Dallas’ practice squad was based solely on Sam’s playing ability.

“We felt like it was a good move for our football team right now,” said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. “We’re bringing a player in we wanted to see on the practice field, and got nothing but good reports about him from our people and the people in St. Louis. We just want to give him a chance to come in and see if he can help our football team.”

TIME NFL

Dallas Cowboys Sign Michael Sam, Save NFL From Stupidity

Michael Sam
L.G. Patterson—AP Former Missouri player Michael Sam, left, waves to fans has he and former teammate E.J. Gaines, right, are introduced during the first quarter of the South Dakota State-Missouri NCAA college football game on Aug. 30, 2014, in Columbia, Mo.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, never afraid of attention, signs the NFL's first openly gay player to practice squad. The team needs him

The whole thing was starting to stink. Michael Sam, after performing well during the preseason, really wasn’t good enough to earn a spot on any NFL roster? Not even as a practice player?

Leave it the one NFL owner who doesn’t mind a media “distraction” — sarcastic air quotes very intentional — to step up and sign Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player. According to multiple reports, Sam will be added to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, as long as he passes a physical. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones relishes the media attention that many teams fear will accompany Sam into the locker room. This is a guy who wanted to draft lighting rod Johnny Manziel, before his son talked him out of it. He told ESPN The Magazine writer Don Van Natta that he still regrets passing on Johnny Football. He built a ridiculously lavish stadium. He signed T.O.

Even better, Sam is no carnival barker; he’s the anti-T.O. This isn’t a publicity stunt. Sam makes football sense for the Cowboys, who are weak at defensive line. Though he’s starting on the practice squad, don’t be shocked to see Sam get a promotion.

Sam’s release from the St. Louis Rams, who drafted the University of Missouri star in the seventh round, was never going to be a shocker. That team had well-documented depth at defensive line. But after an impressive preseason in which he recorded three sacks, it seemed likely that some NFL team would pick him up, at least for their practice squad. The odds looked very, very favorable.

This year, 41 players, including Sam, were selected by NFL teams in the seventh and final round of the NFL draft. As of early Tuesday afternoon, 80% of them were slated to start the season on an NFL roster. Twenty-one players made the 53-man active roster, six more made practice squads, and six were placed on injured reserve/physically unable to perform lists.

What’s more, Adam Schefter of ESPN noted the following:

Three other defensive ends were picked in the seventh round. One, Ben Gardner from Stanford, is on Dallas’ injured list. The other two did not come from major football schools. Terrence Fede, of Marist College, and Shelby Harris of Illinois State, made the active rosters of the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders, respectively. Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year at the University of Missouri; Fede and Harris are more physically imposing than Sam (Fede is 6’4″, 282 pounds, Harris is 6’2″, 288 pounds, Sam is 6’2″, 261 pounds).

It’s easy to think that seventh rounders are long-shots to make NFL rosters. But no, not this year: over half the players made the active team, and only 20% of them, including Sam, were unemployed as of early this afternoon. So why was Sam among the jobless, despite his strong pre-season performance? Despite being a pass-rush specialist in a pass-happy league that puts a premium on quarterback pressure? Bleacher Report NFL writer Mike Freeman surveyed some front office executive, and his findings were revealing:

In interviews with a number of team officials, I can’t find one who will actually say to me, “He can’t play.” They all point to the media and say he’s too big a distraction.

One general manager told me, “Teams want to sign Michael Sam but fear the media attention.”

Ah, the “distraction” issue. What an awful crutch. Sure, the media hasn’t always behaved gracefully here — look no further than ESPN’s sloppy reporting about Sam’s showering habits. (Not that the shower issue isn’t totally irrelevant. If Sam was refusing to shower with his teammates because he felt like the locker room was homophobic, that is certainly important and newsworthy. The problem was that ESPN’s report was so thinly sourced that the information the reporter shared — an unnamed player speculating that Sam was waiting to take a shower so teammates weren’t uncomfortable — wasn’t worth airing.)

But that report aside, the Rams seemed to survive the preseason intact, despite the Sam “distraction.” If NFL teams were indeed passing on Sam for their practice squads for non-football reasons — sure seemed that way — what an ugly move. At best, the “distraction” excuse is cowardly. What, an NFL team can’t handle a few extra cameras in the locker room because of Sam, cameras that would surely thin out once the season began and Sam went about his business? It’s not like he’s extending an open invitation for the media horde to ask him questions. People just happen to be interested in him. Sam was going to be denied an opportunity for reasons beyond his control. The only decision he made to “bring on” this attention was a very admirable one: being open about his sexuality, and thus serving as a role model for others.

At worst, the media is just a scapegoat. Pure bigotry was at play.

For now, though, these issues can be cast in the background. Jerry Jones bailed the NFL out, temporarily at least. Sam will get another shot.

A well-deserved one.

TIME NFL

Reports: Wes Welker Suspended After Testing Positive for Amphetamines

FILE - Wes Welker Suspended Four Games
Jeff Zelevansky—Getty Images Wide receiver Wes Welker #83 of the Denver Broncos speaks to the media during Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day at the Prudential Center on Jan. 28, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. Welker has been suspended for use of amphetamines.

The Denver Broncos wide receiver will sit out four games

Wes Welker, a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, has reportedly been suspended for four games after testing positive for amphetamine in May.

Citing anonymous sources, NFL.com reporter Albert Breer said via Twitter on Tuesday that Welker tested positive for the banned performance-enhancing drug and would be sitting out the start of the season.

Welker failed the test in May, NFL.com reports, so the suspension should not be a shock to Broncos leadership, which had prepared for a shakeup. Welker has also been dealing with injuries this year: two weeks ago, he suffered his third concussion in the past 10 months.

The Broncos open the NFL season Sunday with a matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.

[NFL.com]

TIME NFL

NFL Player Ray McDonald Arrested on Domestic Violence Charges

Ray McDonald
Greg Trott—AP San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald during an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 1, 2013, in San Francisco.

The San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle was arrested the same week NFL introduced harsher punishments for domestic violence offenders

San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald was arrested early Sunday morning on felony domestic violence charges, according to the San Jose Police Department.

McDonald was taken into custody and brought to the Santa Clara County Jail after officers responded to reports of a violent altercation in San Jose, Calif., around 2:45 a.m., NBC Bay Area reports. The alleged victim was pregnant. No bail has been set.

The 29-year-old, who has been with the team since 2007, was previously arrested in 2010 for DUI and again in 2012 for an outstanding warrant.

The arrest comes in the same week as National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell instituted harsher punishments for players guilty of domestic violence, sexual assault and other violent crimes against women. First-time offenders will be subject to a six-game suspension, while a repeat offender will be banned from the league for life.

Goodell was motivated to change the league’s policies after being widely criticized over the suspension of Ray Rice for only two games in July, after the Baltimore Ravens running back was captured on video pulling his unconscious fiancé out of an elevator following an altercation.

The NFL commissioner later acknowledged that he “didn’t get it right” on Rice’s punishment. (As TIME’s Sean Gregory notes, the league gives year-long suspensions for marijuana use.)

In a Sunday statement, 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke said that the team is “aware of the recent reports regarding Ray McDonald and we take such matters seriously. As we continue to gather the facts, we will reserve further comment.”

Former 49ers players say head coach Jim Harbaugh has a zero-tolerance policy for assaulting women, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “He said that we can do anything in the world and we can come and talk to him and he’ll forgive us except put our hands on women,” Donte Whitner, who now plays for the Cleveland Browns, said in 2012. “If you put your hand on a woman, then you’re done in his book.”

[NBC Bay Area]

TIME Football

What’s Next for Michael Sam?

St. Louis Rams cut the openly gay defensive end Saturday, but analysts say he has a future in the NFL

The NFL may not see its first openly gay player on a regular season roster this year after all.

The St. Louis Rams announced Saturday that Michael Sam didn’t make the team’s 53-man roster, but analysts say the rookie defensive end still has a shot at a career in the NFL.

Sam now becomes a free agent, but if another team doesn’t pick him up, he might end up back where he started: with the Rams, as part of their 10-member practice squad, the Washington Post reported. In that case, the player would practice with the team but not play in games.

Watch the video above for more on what analysts say is in store for Sam.

TIME

Michael Sam’s March to NFL History Derailed — but Only for Now

FILE - Michael Sam Released By St. Louis Rams
Dilip Vishwanat—Getty Images Michael Sam addresses the media during a press conference at Rams Park on May 13, 2014 in Earth City, Missouri. The St. Louis Rams released defensive end, ending Sam's effort to become the first openly gay player in NFL history.

Michael Sam the NFL player may not have a jersey right now, but he isn’t going anywhere

The Rams cut openly gay rookie defensive end Michael Sam on Saturday, minutes before the NFL’s mandated roster deadline. The news sent shockwaves through the NFL and the LGBT community Saturday afternoon, his march to history seemingly derailed.

Yet for Sam, his journey continues. This is just a hiccup for the man who was the first openly gay man drafted by the NFL, the first openly gay man to play in an NFL preseason game, and who will be the first openly gay man to play in a regular-season NFL game.

Michael Sam the NFL player may not have a jersey right now, but he isn’t going anywhere.

The road to that final piece of immortality is simply a little bumpier now. Sam will have to be signed by another team in the next 24 hours, or he’ll most certainly end up on the Rams’ practice squad. From there, he would continue to work with the staff that drafted him in May, honing his skills and proving his worth on the football field. He would then wait week-to-week as other NFL teams considered picking him up or until the Rams activated him for a game.

The journey isn’t over, it just took a left turn.

Sam was born to be this man. Growing up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood he survived tragedy after tragedy as a child, surrounded by drug dealers and coping with the loss of three siblings. His father abandoned the family during his youth. His mother, a Jehovah’s Witness, barred Sam from playing football when he was younger.

His mother banning him from football didn’t take, and neither will this.

Since coming out publicly, Sam has continued to endure. His NFL Draft stock fell in May in part — many including myself believe — because he is openly gay. He endured heavy criticism with the announcement of a docuseries produced by Oprah Winfrey. While many have lauded Sam, there have also been jabs at him, most recently with ESPN’s report on his showering habits.

With more scrutiny and pressure than any seventh-round pick in NFL history, plus the hopes of an entire community on his shoulders, Sam performed well in four preseason games, tallying three sacks and leading the team in tackles just last Thursday against the Miami Dolphins.

The Rams’ decision to cut him is just another hurdle that will ultimately demonstrate the courage and fortitude of a great man.

The man knows how to overcome set-backs and handle pressure. He was made for this trailblazing role. He was made for the NFL.

Many in the LGBT community are lashing out at the NFL today, claiming homophobia. It’s understandable. Gay men have been told for decades they’re not good enough to play football, they’re not welcome in the locker rooms. Some of those messages have even reverberated in 2014. While the Rams’ decision wasn’t based on homophobia, it’s hard not to afford gay men a little foot-stomping at this latest rejection.

You know who isn’t lashing out? Michael Sam. He knew this was always a possibility, part of the cold business that is the NFL. A coach is your mentor and father-figure one day. The next afternoon he gives you a pink slip. Sam understands this is not the end, but rather another opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, earn his spot at the very top of his profession and take his rightful place in history.

“The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy,” Sam said in a statement after learning the Rams’ decision. “This is a lesson I’ve always known.

“The journey continues.”

Zeigler is co-founder and editor of Outsports.com.

TIME Extreme Sports

Watch These Wingsuit Daredevils Make Risky Jumps for Internet Fame

Videos featuring extreme stunts are more and more common online, but some worry about the consequences as amateurs attempt riskier jumps

Wingsuit flying – a sport in which people glide through the air while wearing a specialized suit – was first attempted in Switzerland in 2003.

More than 10 years later, the spectacular sport attracts hundreds of aficionados every year: recent estimates put the number of people practicing wingsuiting at about 2,000, AFP reports.

And as the sport becomes more popular, so have the videos shared online featuring daring stunts, turning expert wingsuiters into Internet sensations. Some are seen flying perilously close to mountainsides and approaching the record flying speed of 363 kph.

“Video has a positive side,” Vincent Descols, a wingsuit flier, told AFP. “It allows us to fine-tune the art of flight: the accuracy, the height at which to open the parachute.”

“But other videos are a problem because they give the impression that it’s easy,” Descols added.
Some worry that the online spread of wingsuit videos could be encouraging amateurs to take unprecedented risks. According to the Base Jumping Fatality List, there were 21 wingsuit deaths worldwide in 2013.

 

 

 

TIME Football

49ers’ Aldon Smith Gets 9-Game Suspension Following DUIs

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has been suspended for nine NFL games following a number of incidents including making a false bomb threat and two arrests for driving under the influence.

“Our organization has known this decision would come and we have prepared for it as a team,” the team’s general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. “We will continue to support him, but it is time to put this matter behind us and focus on the season ahead.”

Smith has a long list of transgressions to his name. He was charged with possession of illegal assault rifles and driving under the influence in May and pleaded no contest. He faced another DUI charge in 2012. Smith was also arrested in April at Los Angeles International Airport for allegedly suggesting that he was carrying a bomb, but formal charges were never filed.

The punishment means the 49ers will be without a key player for most of the regular season this year. Smith will be eligible to return to the field in November.

TIME Auto Racing

NASCAR Driver Tony Stewart: Deadly Incident Will ‘Affect My Life Forever’

Oral-B USA 500 - Practice
Jamie Squire—Getty Images Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, speaks to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia.

Nascar champion Tony Stewart's car struck his fellow racer on Aug. 9

NASCAR driver Tony Stewart said Friday he remains heartbroken after he hit and killed fellow driver Kevin Ward in a racing crash three weeks ago. The comments come as Stewart, a champion driver, prepares to race again for the first time since the tragedy.

“I’ve taken the last couple of weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family and also to cope with the accident in my own way,” Stewart said. “It’s given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss my team, my teammates and I miss being back in the race car and I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.”

The incident, which occurred in a sprint car race in upstate New York earlier this month, shocked the racing world. Stewart’s car struck 20-year-old Kevin Ward, Jr. as Ward walked on the tarmac of the race track, apparently trying to flag down Stewart after a collision between the two drivers.

Stewart did not take questions at the Friday press conference, citing an ongoing police investigation of the incident.

 

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