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ESPN announces new weekday lineup, led by Mike Greenberg’s morning variety show 05.16.17 at 10:42 am ET
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ESPN continues to shake things up. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

ESPN continues to shake things up. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

For several months, there have been rumors about a big shakeup coming to ESPN’s weekday lineup. Those reports were confirmed Tuesday at the network’s annual Upfront event.

ESPN president John Skipper announced Mike Greenberg, who recently signed a new contract that will pay him a reported $6.5 million per year, will host his own variety show from 7:00-10:00 a.m. EST. The program, along with all other lineup changes, will begin in January. Trey Wingo will take Greenberg’s spot alongside Mike Golic on “Mike & Mike,” and the two will be joined by Mike Golic Jr. from 6:00-7:00 a.m.

“First Take” will remain in its 10:00-noon time slot, and a show hosted by Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre will air from noon-1:00 p.m. ESPN’s block of afternoon program will remain the same.

The success of this lineup largely depends on Greenberg’s New York City-based show, which will feature several co-hosts and guests. It was originally rumored that Sage Steele would join Greenberg, but ESPN announced Monday she’ll be hosting “SportsCenter: AM” weekday mornings on ESPN 2, beginning in late August.

Given all of the options for morning television, including partisan cable news programs drawing record numbers in the Trump era, it’s difficult to see where Greenberg will find his niche. While the affable anchor’s inoffensive style meshes well with a certain percentage of people, the networks  –– CBS, ABC and NBC –– already have the market cornered on breezy morning talk. It’s unlikely Greenberg’s show will be highlight-based, considering ESPN 2 will be airing a more traditional “SportsCenter” during that time slot.

Jones and Torre are rising stars at the WorldWide Leader, but they both subscribe to the same progressive worldview. It’s easy to see the program becoming an echo chamber.

Ratings for ESPN’s studio programs are on the decline, and while changing viewing habits are to blame for some of the drop-off, the quality of the shows must be looked at, too. “SC:6″ with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith has received the brunt of criticism, with Yahoo Finance writer Daniel Roberts noting recently that roughly half of the 3,000 comments on a story about ESPN layoffs were people advocating for their firing. Since March, the show’s audience is down an average of 12.6 percent compared to last year’s 6:00 p.m. “SportsCenter.”

In a memo, ESPN management seems to grant commentators more leeway to talk about polarizing social issues. But as of now, none of these new shows feature hosts with divergent viewpoints or new faces. It seems to be a reshuffling of the deck chairs more than anything else.

After undergoing mass layoffs last month, it’s clear ESPN is invested in this new weekday lineup. The network is going more towards opinion, but it’s uncertain if these shows, outside of “First Take,” will provide much in terms of debate.

Read More: ESPN,
On Dr. Phil, Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee expresses doubt about his suicide, murder conviction & reported gang ties 05.15.17 at 5:24 pm ET
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Aaron Hernandez's fiancee says she doesn't think he committed suicide. (The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee says she doesn’t think he committed suicide. (The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee says she’s skeptical about the disgraced ex-NFL star’s suicide and whether he wrote the handwritten note found in his prison cell that was addressed to her. She also contends he didn’t kill Odin Lloyd in 2013.

In part one of her interview with Dr. Phil, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez said she thought it was a “hoax” when prison officials told her Hernandez had hanged himself. She said she was devastated when she heard the news, considering their last conversation was upbeat and positive.

“I don’t know what to believe, to be honest with you,” she said. “It’s just not the Aaron that I know. I think that if he would’ve done something like this, he would’ve been at his worst. It was looking so bright. We were going up a ladder, in a sense. I haven’t been able to grasp any of it yet.”

Though Jenkins-Hernandez said she doesn’t think her husband killed himself, she didn’t expound on alternative explanations for his death. When asked about the letter left to her, she explained why she harbors doubts about whether Hernandez had written it.

“I thought it was a note of love,” she said. “I did see that it was addressed to ‘Shay’ instead of ‘babe’ or ‘bae,’ the way he would refer [to me]. I thought that was a little odd to me. As far as the content, he seemed to be his loving self.

“It screamed love, but it wasn’t personal. It wasn’t intimate. There were some odd parts where it just didn’t make sense. It wasn’t clicking in my head as far as what he may have been thinking. It was very short. I wanted more. I wanted him to explain. I was very confused. I can read it over and over again, and I’m still at the same place where I read it. I don’t feel like there’s any progression.”

Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell April 19 at Souza Baranowski Correction Center in Shirley, five days after he was acquitted of double-murder charges. He was still serving a life sentence for the Lloyd shooting, but was appealing the verdict. A judge vacated his conviction last week, citing a seldom used Massachusetts law.

Jenkins-Hernandez admits her fiancee may have been in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” but says he wasn’t a gang member and didn’t commit murder. Then again, she also admitted that she didn’t ask many questions about his social life.

“Everyone has their own choice in friends. He didn’t have the best choice in some friends, but that doesn’t make him a bad person,” she said. “As far as the relationships he had with outsiders, I don’t necessarily know too much about that. I invited everyone into the home that he brought there. I was never rude.

“Honestly, I never hung around with them. So it’s more or less that you cook and make food for everyone. You make sure they’re comfortable. And then I would kind of go and do my own thing. I wouldn’t say I felt uncomfortable in my home. I separated myself.”

 

Read More: Aaron Hernandez,
ESPN announces big changes to ‘SportsCenter’ 05.15.17 at 2:28 pm ET
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Mar 2, 2017; Boulder, CO, USA; General view of an ESPN broadcast microphone before the game between the Stanford Cardinal against the Colorado Buffaloes at the Coors Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN will unleash a brand new 11:00 p.m. “SportsCenter” June 5. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Change is sweeping through ESPN.

Less than one month after undergoing mass layoffs, the WorldWide Leader announced Monday it’s making major alterations to the “SportsCenter” franchise. Amidst sagging TV ratings, the highlight-based program will make a strong digital push, launching “SportsCenter Right Now,” a short video update that will appear multiple times per hour on ESPN’s app and homepage. The segments, which will begin in August, will also air twice hourly during the network’s daytime programming.

In addition to the renewed digital focus, ESPN will also shuffle around several signature personalities. Veteran anchors Kenny Mayne, John Anderson, Steve Levy and the recently re-signed John Buccigross will host a daily 11:00 p.m. “SportsCenter,” leading into Scott Van Pelt’s midnight airing. The arrangement will start June 5.

Sage Steele will also make her rumored move to mornings, hosting “SportsCenter: AM” from 7-10 a.m. EST Monday-Thursday. The program will air seven days per week, with Jay Harris, Kevin Negandhi, Randy Scott, Elle Duncan and Matt Barrie joining Steele at the anchor desk. Steele, who came under fire in January for calling out those who were protesting President Donald Trump’s travel ban, was removed recently from “NBA Countdown.”

Mike Greenberg’s morning variety show wasn’t mentioned in the press release, but is still expected to hit the airwaves at some point in the future.

ESPN says it won’t make any changes to the 6:00 p.m. “SportsCenter” with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, despite mixed reviews and tumbling viewership.

Read More: ESPN,
Antonio Cromartie’s wife is pregnant with his 14th child 05.15.17 at 2:00 pm ET
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Antonio Cromartie is expected to have his 14th child. ( John Munson/The Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports)

Antonio Cromartie is expected to have his 14th child. ( John Munson/The Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports)

Even a vasectomy can’t stop Antonio Cromartie’s potent sperm.

The NFL cornerback’s wife announced on Instagram Monday she’s pregnant with his 14th kid. This will be the sixth child Terricka Cromartie has given birth to.

“In the up an coming CROMARTIE DRAFT of 2017, with the 6th OverAll Pick. Will the Cromartie’s Draft a Boy or a Girl. J6 coming soon,” she writes.

Cromartie, who pays more than $300,000 per year in child support, underwent a vasectomy in early 2016. Shortly thereafter, his wife said she was pregnant with twins. Vasectomies are effective 99.85 percent of the time.

“It was shocking news for the both of us,” Terricka Cromartie said at the time, via the New York Daily News. “It took me awhile to process it, but Antonio stood firm and was saying, ‘It’s God’s will.’ And he’s been excited the whole time.”

Cromartie’s penchant for impregnating women first came to the forefront during the 2010 season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” when the former Jets star appeared to struggle naming all of his children. He blamed the show’s producers for staging the footage.

Read More: Antonio Cromartie,
ESPN is dedicating its weekend to worshipping Derek Jeter 05.12.17 at 3:51 pm ET
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Derek Jeter's number will be retired this weekend.  (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees will retire Derek Jeter’s number this weekend. (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Few events will ever be more insufferable than the season-long Derek Jeter retirement tour the Yankees put everyone through three years ago. But the build up to his number retirement ceremony may come close.

The Yankees are placing Jeter’s No. 2 in Monument Park Sunday, along with 23 other franchise greats. The ceremony will take place prior to their Sunday night contest against the Astros on ESPN, which will provide coverage every step of the way. Check out the nauseating weekend rundown of programming, courtesy of Awful Announcing:

Friday: ESPN.com will promote the top 10 moments of Jeter’s career

Saturday: ESPN’s Yankees beat reporter, Andrew Marchand, will produce a piece on the only single-digit number the Yankees haven’t retired, No. 0.

Sunday Morning: “SportsCenter” anchor Sarina Morales will be live at Yankee Stadium starting at 8:00 a.m.

Sunday Afternoon: ESPN will air a “SportsCenter” special devoted to Jeter’s career at 3:00 p.m.

Sunday Pre-Game: A special 6:00 p.m. edition of “Baseball Tonight” will feature a live look-in at the number retirement ceremony. Clips from Karl Ravech’s interview with Jeter will air.

Sunday Night Baseball: There will likely be plenty of Jeter ass-kissing. Former Yankees skipper Joe Torre will sit in the booth as well.

Jeter, of course, is one of the greatest shortstops of all-time and won five champions with the Yankees. He deserves to be lauded for his greatness. But there’s a fine line between adulation and hero worship. And much like the coverage he received during his career, ESPN seems poised to cross the line this weekend.

But at least there won’t be a fake Aretha Franklin serenading him with “RE2PECT” –– we think.

Read More: Derek Jeter, ESPN,
Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee says she doesn’t think he killed himself 05.12.17 at 12:52 pm ET
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Aaron Hernandez's fiancee says she doesn't think he killed himself last month. (The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee says she doesn’t think he killed himself last month. (The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee will appear on Dr. Phil next week. In the two-part interview, she casts doubt on the state’s ruling that the disgraced ex-NFL star committed suicide.

During an appearance Friday on NBC’s “Today,” Dr. Phil McGraw previewed his highly anticipated sit-down chat with Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, who testified in both of her fiancee’s murder trials. “She does not believe he killed himself, surprisingly, because the evidence is pretty overwhelming,” he said.

Massachusetts authorities released the full report on Hernandez’s death last week, saying the former Patriots tight end hanged himself in his prison cell April 19 at Souza Baranowski Correction Center in Shirley. He was found naked at 3:00 a.m. with the biblical verse “John 3:16″ written in ink on his forehead and in a “substance consistent with blood” on the walls. There was also a cut on Hernandez’s finger and a “large circular blood mark on both of his feet.”

Jenkins-Hernandez told McGraw she thought it was a “hoax” when prison officials called to inform her about the suicide. In their last phone conversation, she said Hernandez seemed excited about the prospect of coming home. He was acquitted of double-murder charges five days before his passing and was appealing his first-degree murder conviction for the 2013 Odin Lloyd shooting.

“He was very positive, so excited to come home,” she said. “I spoke to him the night before and he was so, you know, ‘Daddy’s going to be home, and I can’t wait to sleep in bed with you guys, and I can’t wait to just hold you and love you.'”

Jose Baez, Hernandez’s attorney, has vowed to conduct an investigation into his death. In a statement, he said he thinks the Hernandez family is owed an “independent and thorough” inquiry.

In addition to the police report, there’s strong circumstantial evidence that Hernandez planned to kill himself. Prior to his death, an inmate told authorities Hernandez had mentioned the obscure Massachusetts law that voids a defendant’s convictions if he doesn’t exhaust all of his legal appeals upon his passing. In a note addressed to Jenkins-Hernandez found in his cell, he wrote, “YOU’RE RICH!” –– an apparent reference to the abatement rule. Judge Susan Garsh, who sentenced Hernandez to life in prison two years ago, vacated the verdict earlier this week.

Prosecutors say they’re appealing the ruling.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez,
Ratings for ‘SC:6′ with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith are tumbling 05.12.17 at 11:48 am ET
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Jemele Hill and Michael Smith are seeing their viewership numbers tumble.  (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Jemele Hill and Michael Smith are seeing their viewership numbers decline. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

ESPN’s “The Six” with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith is one of the most promoted shows on the network. Despite that, ratings are tumbling.

The Big Lead published a breakdown of “SC:6’s” viewership numbers this week, comparing it to the 6:00 p.m. “SportsCenter” hosted by Lindsay Czarniak that aired during the same time slot last year. Though the program enjoyed modest gains in three of its first four weeks –– viewership increased by 2.67 percent from Feb. 13 – Feb. 27 –– it’s fallen ever since. Since March, the show is down an average of 12.6 percent compared to last year’s figures.

To be fair, ratings are down across the board for ESPN’s afternoon block of programming. Pardon the Interruption” has been hit especially hard, with viewership totals declining an average of 13.7 percent compared to 2016.

Since PTI leads into “SC:6,” Hill and Smith are drawing viewers to ESPN. They’re also attracting a more diverse audience. Yahoo Finance reported two weeks ago the 6:00 p.m. “SportsCenter” has increased its reach among black viewers ages 18-34 by 15 percent over last year. On the whole, the show’s audience is 41 percent black.

Those numbers are probably important to ESPN, considering the network’s emphasis on diversity. But on the whole, the show’s lackluster performance must be viewed as a disappointment.

What’s especially concerning is “SC:6’s” failure to attract viewers when big events are going on. The debut episode, which aired on the Monday after the Super Bowl, saw a 19 percent audience drop compared to last year. Programs that aired before or after the first two rounds of the Masters, NFL Draft and NCAA men’s basketball conference championships experienced an average viewership decline of 19.6 percent.

The reviews for “SC:6″ have been harsh as well. Yahoo Finance writer Daniel Roberts noted recently that roughly half of the 3,000 comments on a story about ESPN layoffs were people advocating for the firing of Smith and Hill.

One of the show’s most ardent critics has been WEEI’s Kirk Minihane, who rails against the program’s politically correct tone. Last month, Hill said she wants to meet Minihane “face to face.”

Read More: ESPN, Jemele Hill,
It sure looks like Colin Kaepernick is blackballed from the NFL 05.11.17 at 2:19 pm ET
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Colin Kaepernick is still jobless. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Colin Kaepernick is still jobless. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Colin Kaepernick can’t get a job in the NFL. But the quarterback whom he replaced can. The blackball appears to be on.

The Cardinals signed Blaine Gabbert this week, despite his astounding lack of success at the professional level. The 2011 first-round pick went 1-4 through five weeks last season, throwing for five touchdowns and six interceptions while posting a measly 68.4 passer-rating. Kaepernick reclaimed his starting job Oct. 11, and though the 49ers didn’t fare any better while he was under center (1-10), they received much better play at the quarterback position. Kaepernick posted a 90.7 QB rating in 2016, more than 20 points north of Gabbert’s mark.

Gabbert, who flamed out with the Jaguars before arriving in San Francisco, has never won more than four games in a season as a starting quarterback. Kaepernick, meanwhile, led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and NFC championship game in 2013.

With the 37-year-old Carson Palmer entering the final year of his contract, the Cardinals must start thinking about finding a replacement –– especially given Palmer’s extensive injury history. While Kaepernick isn’t a traditional pocket passer, he’s the best remaining option on the market. But Arizona opted to sign perhaps the worst quarterback available instead.

Kaepernick isn’t a surefire starter at this stage in his career. Since 2014, he’s completed just 59.7 percent of his passes and posted an 85.9 QB rating. The 49ers have gone 11-24 in games he’s started.

But in a QB-starved league, where Mike Glennon and Josh McCown will compete for starting jobs this year, Kaepernick curiously doesn’t even appear to be on anybody’s radar. According to Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News, no team has seriously pursued him. That contradicts an ESPN report from two months ago, which says Kaepernick is holding out for a starting job and $10 million per year. A quarterback can’t demand to start if teams won’t meet with him.

In his column, Kawakami dispels several disparaging rumors about Kaepernick that are floating around. For starters, Kawakami says Kaepernick is back up to his playing weight from 2013, debunking the silly notion that his vegan diet is the reason he’s unemployed.

On Monday, The MMQB’s Peter King reported some 49ers officials think Kaepernick wants to retire from football so he can pursue social justice work full-time. As proof, they cite his new residence in Manhattan and interest in charitable work –– such as when he donated 100 suits to a parole office in Queens. Kawakami pushes back against that, too, writing that Kaepernick continues to work out five days per week.

Whenever a negative story about Kaepernick arises –– his unreasonable contractual demands, emaciating vegan diet –– they come from anonymous league sources. It’s almost as if there’s a sweeping PR campaign across the NFL, with executives hellbent on sullying his reputation.

It’s understandable if teams don’t want to welcome the immense media scrutiny Kaepernick brings with him. But he was far from a distraction for the 49ers last season. In fact, his teammates voted him as the club’s most inspiring player. They’ve also expressed disbelief he remains unemployed.

Jay Cutler, another veteran quarterback with considerable baggage, recently accepted a job at Fox because he couldn’t find work in the NFL. But his story is different than Kaepernick’s. Cutler, who’s almost universally disliked, is coming off shoulder surgery. At 34 years old, it’s fair to wonder whether he can physically play anymore. Though Kaepernick, 29, went through a round of surgeries last year, he didn’t miss a single game due to injury in 2016.

He also finished the season on a high note, posting a 100.1 QB rating over the final four weeks.

But with each passing day, it seems increasingly unlikely Kaepernick will find work before training camp. Meanwhile, inferior quarterbacks keep getting signed, and anonymous league sources continue to badmouth him.

Kaepernick may not be blackballed, but it sure looks like it.

Read More: Colin Kaepernick,
Former Patriots linebacker on the NFL: ‘They don’t care about you’ 05.10.17 at 4:33 pm ET
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The NFL continues to come under fire for its treatment of ex-players. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL continues to come under fire for its treatment of ex-players. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Nick Buoniconti has lived an incredible life. The Springfield native played linebacker in the NFL for 14 seasons, including seven for his hometown Patriots from 1962-68, and was a part of the Dolphins’ undefeated team in 1972. He entered the corporate world after his playing career was over, serving as an agent to Andre Dawson, Bucky Dent and other baseball players.

But now, at 76 years old, Buoniconti’s mind and body are failing. He can’t knot a tie or dry off his back with a towel. His left-handed is almost useless and he frequently visits the emergency room. In a feature story by Sports Illustrated’s S.L. Price, Buoniconti recalls an instance in which he yelled about killing himself after he had fallen down a flight of stairs.

Thanks to a successful life in business, Buoniconti has enough money to pay for his medical procedures. But the same can’t be said for tens of thousands of other ex-players, who are left to wither away.

“I feel for these guys,” Buoniconti said. “They have no direction. It’s not fair that you make the league all this money, and they don’t care about you anymore. You think they care about a player who no longer can contribute to their financial success? Come on.”

Last year, the NFL officially reached its $1 billion settlement with the estimated 20,000 players who sued the league for its negligent handling of head trauma and concussions. But it doesn’t cover CTE, which can only be diagnosed posthumously at this point.

Buoniconti says the arrangement is unacceptable.

“We’re the players who built the game, but have been forgotten,” he said. “The settlement is a joke; the way it was structured is a joke. They are waiting for us to die. They’re going to play the clock out until everybody dies.”

 

Read More: NFL,
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is considering presidential run 05.10.17 at 3:48 pm ET
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The Rock isn't ruling out a presidential run. (Robert Deutsch-USA Today)

The Rock isn’t ruling out a presidential run. (Robert Deutsch-USA Today)

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson isn’t ruling out a presidential run. In fact, he’s already beginning to speak like a politician.

In an interview with GQ, the action movie star and former WWE champion said it’s a “real possibility” he’ll seek higher office in 2020. When asked about his opinion on President Donald Trump’s first months in office, he pivoted to talk about the importance of leadership –– a telltale sign he might be serious about hitting the campaign trail.

“Personally, I feel that if I were president, poise would be important,” Johnson said. “Leadership would be important. Taking responsibility for everybody. [If I didn’t agree with someone] on something, I wouldn’t shut them out. I would actually include them. The first thing we’d do is we’d come and sit down and we’d talk about it. It’s hard to categorize right now how I think he’s doing, other than to tell you how I would operate, what I would like to see.”

While Johnson didn’t delve into policy specifics, he did come out strongly against Trump’s travel ban.

“I believe in our national security to the core, but I don’t believe in a ‘ban’ that bans immigrants,” he said. “I believe in inclusion. Our country was built on that, and it continues to be made strong by that.”

There’s been a lot of speculation surrounding the 45-year-old Baywatch star’s political career since he shared a Washington Post piece on Instagram about how he could actually win the presidency. Since then, he says he’s given the idea more consideration.

“A year ago, it started coming up more and more,” he said. “There was a real sense of earnestness, which made me go home and think, ‘Let me really rethink my answer and make sure I am giving an answer that is truthful and also respectful.’ I didn’t want to be flippant.”

Las Vegas is fairly high on Johnson’s chances, given his political inexperience. Bovada puts his odds for 2020 at 125/1, tying him with Tom Brady and Kanye West.

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