Update on the latest sports
Watt, Texans agree to split in latest team upheaval
UNDATED (AP) — J.J. Watt says he and the Houston Texans have “mutually agreed to part ways,” ending the tenure of the face of the franchise. The star defensive end said in a video on social media Friday that he had asked for his release. Watt had one year remaining on a 6-year, $100 million contract.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year has spent his entire career with the Texans after being selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Watt is the only player in NFL history to have 20 or more sacks and 10 or more passes defended in a single season after doing it in both 2012 and 2014. He’s tied for fifth among defensive lineman in league history with six touchdowns in the regular season, including three TD catches. The four-time Pro Bowler never missed a game until 2016, when he started struggling with a back injury that ended his season. He broke his leg in the fifth game of the 2017 but rebounded from his injuries to finish with 16 sacks in 2018 and earn All-Pro honors for the fifth time.
Watt, who will turn 32 next month, played just eight regular-season games in 2019 after tearing a pectoral muscle, but returned to help the Texans in the playoffs. He played every game in 2020 and had five sacks, 52 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown.
Watt’s departure follows a 4-12 season that saw coach Bill O’Brien fired after an 0-4 start and quarterback Deshaun Watson requesting a trade.
In other NFL news:
— Mike and Maurkice Pouncey came into the world together, and they’re leaving the NFL in the same way. The 31-year-old twin brothers have retired after spending a decade among the best centers in the league. The Pounceys made the announcement Friday on their respective Instagram pages. Maurkice Pouncey was a two-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler in Pittsburgh. Mike Pouncey reached four Pro Bowls while playing for Miami and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Durant, Herro cleared to return
UNDATED (AP) — Kevin Durant has rejoined the Brooklyn Nets and will be able to play Saturday in his return to Golden State.
Durant missed three games for coronavirus health and safety protocol reasons and faced a mandatory seven-day quarantine after being a close contact of a team employee who tested positive for the virus. The star forward continued to test negative during his absence and was able to return to practice today.
Durant spent three seasons with the Warriors, winning NBA titles in the first two before rupturing his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
Tyler Herro was also cleared Friday to resume basketball activities with the Miami Heat. He had missed one game while dealing with the NBA’s health and safety protocols related to the pandemic.
The second-year guard was flagged after a test result Thursday, then cleared after returning subsequent negative tests. Herro was not permitted to play in Miami’s win over Houston on Thursday night while the matter was sorted out, then was able to join the team for its flight to Salt Lake City after the game.
AP source: Panik agrees to minor league deal with Blue Jays
UNDATED (AP) — A person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press that the busy Blue Jays have agreed to a minor league contract to keep second baseman Joe Panik.
The 30-year-old hit .225 with one homer and seven RBIs in 120 at-bats during the pandemic-shortened season, his first with Toronto. He earned $1,055,056 in prorated pay from a $2.85 million salary. He is a seven-year major league veteran who has a .269 average, 39 homers and 240 RBIs for San Francisco, the Mets and Blue Jays.
Panik was an All-Star in 2015 and won a Gold Glove in 2016.
In other baseball news:
— Well-traveled right-handed reliever Dylan Floro was traded Friday by the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Miami Marlins for left-handed reliever Alex Vesia and pitching prospect Kyle Hurt. Floro went 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA in 25 games last year. He has also pitched for the Rays, Cubs and Reds, and has a career ERA of 3.33 in five seasons. He agreed last month to $975,000, one-year contract, and is eligible for free agency after 2023 season. Vesia got rocked as a rookie for the Marlins last year, when he allowed nine earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.
— Free agent infielder Brock Holt has agreed to a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers that includes an invitation to big league spring training. Holt will get a $1.75 million, one-year contract if added to the 40-man roster. He could then earn another $750,000 in performance bonuses. Holt split last season with Milwaukee and Washington after the previous seven years in Boston. He was an All-Star with the Red Sox in 2015, and was part of their Word Series championship team in 2018.
— Baseball’s Hall of Fame has canceled its traditional outdoor induction ceremony for the second straight summer because of the pandemic. Instead, there will be an indoor, televised event for Derek Jeter and others being honored. Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and late players’ association executive director Marvin Miller were to have been inducted last summer but the pandemic caused the ceremony to be called off for the first time since 1960. This year’s ceremony remains scheduled for July 25 but will look different. No new inductees were chosen for this year’s class.
— Major League Baseball has revamped its spring training exhibition schedule because of the pandemic, cutting travel for Florida-based teams in an effort to minimize virus risks. College baseball teams were dropped from the revised schedules because they are not subject to major league testing protocols. Also eliminated were split-squad games, which are traditionally used in the first half of the exhibition season to allow evaluation of more players. Pitchers and catchers start reporting for spring training on Wednesday, and the exhibition season starts Feb. 28, two days later than initially announced in September.
Injury could force Djokovic to withdraw
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic’s (NOH’-vak JOH’-kuh-vich-ehz) bid for a ninth Australian Open championship has been thrown into doubt after he took a fall during a five-set victory in the third round. The top-ranked Djokovic says he tore a muscle and might not be able to play his next match.
Djokovic seemed to be cruising along to a 17th consecutive win against a U.S. opponent when his left foot gave out from under him as he tried to change directions early in the third set against Taylor Fritz. Djokovic eventually won 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 but said afterward the he didn’t know whether he’d be able to play Milos Raonic (MEE’-lohsh ROW’-nihch) on Sunday.
Friday’s match began with spectators present but Rod Laver Arena was empty by the time it ended. Spectators were forced to leave before a new COVID-19 lockdown began at midnight. No fans will be allowed at the tournament for at least five days.
The new restrictions imposed by the Victoria state government prevent residents from leaving their homes except to work, shop for essential supplies, exercise or give or receive care. Schools will be closed Monday through Wednesday and there will be no gatherings permitted at homes or for sports events, weddings or religious services. Masks will be required everywhere.
On Saturday, Rafael Nadal will continue his attempt for a men’s-record 21st Grand Slam singles title when he takes on Cameron Norrie, and three American women will attempt to join Serena Williams in the fourth round. Shelby Rogers will play No. 21 Anett Kontaveit, No. 22 Jennifer Brady takes on qualifier Kaja Juvan and Jessica Pegula faces Kristina Mladenovic.
Kaia Kanepi, who beat defending champion Sofia Kenin in the second round, plays Donna Vekic, while top-ranked Ash Barty plays Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Men’s matches include Australia’s Alex De Minaur against the volatile Fabio Fognini, who got into a heated exchange with fellow Italian Salvatore Caruso after a five-set win on Thursday and had to be separated by a tournament official. No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 7 Andrey Rublev all are also in action Saturday.
Mori is gone but gender issues remain for Tokyo Olympics
TOKYO (AP) — Yoshiro Mori (yoh-shee-roh moh-ree) has resigned as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee after an outcry over comments he made last week in which he said women “talk too much.”
The resignation of the former Japanese prime minister at an executive board meeting comes just over five months before the postponed Olympics are to open in the middle of a pandemic with public sentiment overwhelmingly against the games. The pandemic is one reason, and the soaring costs are the other.
The executive board did not immediately choose a successor for Mori, which CEO Toshiro Muto said would come “as soon as possible” and will be made by a review committee. He called it a “single-digit body” made up equally of men and women, and he repeatedly declined to give a specific time frame.
Muto also declined to say if Mori’s replacement would be a woman, but Seiko Hashimoto might be the front runner. She is the current government Olympic minister and was also a bronze medalist in speedskating in the 1992 Albertville Games.