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Notre Dame’s Te’o “investigation” was lacking in many respects

Jack Swarbrick AP

When Notre Dame mobilized on Wednesday night to characterize the Manti Te’o fake dead girlfriend hoax as something for which Te’o had no responsibility, the effort included a press conference from Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, who declared among other things that the university’s ultimate conclusions were based on a report from a private investigation firm that had rolled up its sleeves and gotten to the truth.

Apparently, no sleeves were rolled in the making of the report.

According to the South Bend Tribune, a university spokesman admits that the investigators conducted no interviews.  The firm didn’t interview Te’o or his family.  The firm didn’t attempt to contact the admitted perpetrator of the hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

The firm didn’t examine cell phone records to confirm Te’o’s claim of eight-hour phone conversations with the person posing as Lennay Kekua.  The firm also didn’t look at emails or other electronic communications that would demonstrate the length and extent of the communications between Te’o and the person(s) playing the role of Kekua.

If pressed, Notre Dame would surely claim that those steps weren’t needed because the smoking gun was found by searching the Internet and other public sources.  If forced to tell the whole truth, Notre Dame likely would say the investigators were instructed to do nothing that would increase the chances of the story being leaked and in turn reported before the January 7 BCS national title game.  Once interviews begin, other names are mentioned.  To be complete, those people need to be interviewed, too.  Eventually, the interviews could have included someone who would have blabbed about the situation to the media.

Of course, an interview with Te’o wouldn’t have done that.  Instead, the investigators presumably received whatever notes Swarbrick created during his possible kid-gloves meetings with Te’o.

And so Notre Dame’s proclamation that no laws were broken was made without the benefit of Te’o’s uncle’s suspicions about Tuiasosopo’s financial incentives, or Te’o’s claim that at one point he was asked to provide checking account numbers, a clear sign that there was an attempt to turn something that supposedly was sport into profit.

“Early on, she said that she was going to send me money, actually,” Te’o told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.  “And she wanted to send it and she wanted to directly deposit it into my account.  So she wants to know my checking account number, which I didn’t give her. . . .  I’m not giving my checking account number.  I don’t care who you are.  I’m not giving my checking account number out to you.  Then she went on and asked my best friend, Robby.  Hey, Rob, I want to help you guys out with groceries or help you guys pay for the bills for the house.  I’ve saved up some money, you know. Give me your checking account number, and I’ll put it in there. . . .  I told him, whatever you do, do not give out your checking account number.”

Te’o said that the “red flag” went away when he was told by the student credit union that someone who wants to put money in to his account couldn’t take money out with the account numbers.  But then he didn’t provide the numbers, even though he no longer believed money could be taken from his account.

Still, the “national” firm Notre Dame hired didn’t even know about the potential red flag, because the firm didn’t ask Te’o about that.  Or anything else.  Or anyone else.

So the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is still out there.  Between the suspicions regarding Tuiasosopo and the attempt to get Te’o’s checking account numbers, there’s enough evidence to justify exploration of the situation by the appropriate officials.  If the appropriate officials are so inclined.

If they’re not, we’d love to know why.  A major goal of the criminal justice system is deterrence.  And there’s no better way to deter crime than to fight it in the context of a high-profile case.

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Mike Ditka wants anti-Redskins liberals to get off his lawn

Ditka Getty Images

Mike Ditka is the crusty old coot of the football world, the grandpa you love even as he says things that make you cringe. So now that Ditka has waded into the controversy over the Washington NFL team’s name, it’s tempting to ignore him, just as you try to ignore the old neighbor who talks your ear off about how everything was better back in his day, when men were men and Herbert Hoover was president.

Still, the 74-year-old Ditka’s recent comments about the Redskins name have received enough attention that they probably merit a response. Ditka talked to a totally unbiased website called RedskinsHistorian.com, and he made it clear that he’s angry about this newfangled effort to change the name of the team in Washington.

“What’s all the stink over the Redskin name?” Ditka said. “It’s so much horse s–t it’s incredible. We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world.”

Ditka has never made any secret of his dislike of liberals. Ditka briefly considered running against Barack Obama in the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Illinois, and he has said declining to do that is his greatest regret in life, because he believes he could have prevented Obama from becoming president. But if Ditka thinks only liberals oppose the use of a racial slur as the name of an NFL team, he’s sorely mistaken. John McCain, who unlike Ditka really did run against Obama, has said the Redskins should probably change their name. Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post who is among the most conservative voices in the American media, has written that the team should change its name. Tom Cole, a Republican who is one of only two Native Americans in Congress, wrote to Commissioner Roger Goodell that, “The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur.”

Just as Daniel Snyder has, Ditka insists that the team’s name is meant as a sign of respect.

“It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Brownskin? This is so stupid, it’s appalling,” Ditka said.

But right there, with his own example, Ditka is showing the problem with the name “Redskins.” Ditka seems to realize that we would never tolerate a team being called the Brownskins. So why does he think we should tolerate a team being called the Redskins? Ditka appeals to tradition in support of his beliefs.

“It’s been the name of the team since the beginning of football. It has nothing to do with something that happened lately, or something that somebody dreamed up. This was the name, period. I mean, leave it alone,” Ditka said.

Well, yes, it’s true that this has been the name of the team since the beginning of football. It’s also true that the owner who gave them the Redskins name, George Preston Marshall, was a vicious racist who refused to sign black players until 1962, when the federal government told him his team wouldn’t be permitted to play in Washington, D.C., anymore if he didn’t agree to integrate. Times change.

Ditka believes that Snyder deserves respect for his stubborn stance against changing his team’s name.

“I admire him for it,” Ditka said. “Really, I think it’s tradition, it’s history, it’s part of the National Football League. It was about Sammy Baugh and all the guys who were Redskins way back then. I didn’t think that Lombardi and Halas never had a problem with it, why would all these other idiots have a problem with the name? I’m sorry. I’m not very tolerant when it comes to the liberals who complain about everything.”

It may be true that Vince Lombardi and George Halas had no problem with the name “Redskins” when they were involved in the NFL, many decades ago. It is also utterly irrelevant to the question of whether “Redskins” is an appropriate name for a team in 2014.

There’s a lot to respect about Ditka, a Hall of Fame tight end turned Super Bowl-winning coach who has been a great ambassador for the game of football. But Ditka also talks a lot about that which he knows nothing. This is one of those times.

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Buccaneers release Lavelle Hawkins

Lavelle Hawkins, Kevin Fogg AP

The Buccaneers have some time before they have to start making any cuts, but they’ve already made at least one decision about players currently on the roster who won’t be there when the regular season gets underway.

Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune reports that the team has released veteran wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins. Hawkins signed with Tampa shortly after they traded Mike Williams to the Bills in April and some thought his prior relationship with offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford might help him nail down a spot on the final roster. Things didn’t play out that way.

Getting released now could potentially help Hawkins land somewhere else before the preseason comes to a close, although there are going to be plenty of other players hitting the street in the coming days. Hawkins played four games for the Chargers last season and was with the Titans for the previous five seasons, but has only caught five regular season passes over the last two seasons.

With Hawkins gone, it looks like Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy will be joining Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans on the team this year. Tommy Streeter, Eric Page and Skye Dawson have played the most preseason snaps of the other receivers on the roster.

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Leodis McKelvin’s return from hip surgery slowed by groin injury

Carolina Panthers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Cornerback Leodis McKelvin has been limited all spring and summer as he recovers from offseason hip surgery, but he recently made the move to full practice and looked like he was on track to make his preseason debut against the Buccaneers on Saturday.

That debut may have to be put on hold. Mike Rodak of ESPN.com reports that McKelvin had to leave Wednesday’s practice early because of a groin injury. Coach Doug Marrone said after the practice that there was no decision yet about whether or not McKelvin would be able to play come the weekend.

“I have no idea. They haven’t told me that yet,” Marrone said.

Marrone made it clear while discussing wide receiver Sammy Watkins’s rib injury that he won’t be giving timetables for returns this season, so we’ll have to wait and see when McKelvin is ready to go. Given McKelvin’s spot as a starter across from Stephon Gilmore and the multiple injury issues that he’s working through, it wouldn’t come as a great shock if the Bills opt for a cautious approach to giving him any preseason action.

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Eagles waive RB David Fluellen

Senior Bowl Getty Images

One day after acquiring tailback Kenjon Barner from Carolina, the Eagles parted ways with a running back, announcing the waiving of rookie David Fluellen on Wednesday.

An undrafted free agent from Toledo, Fluellen (5-11, 224) rushed for 25 yards on six carries and caught a 14-yard TD pass in the Eagles’ preseason opener at Chicago. However, he did not play in the club’s Friday preseason game at New England, reportedly because of an injury. However, he was back practicing on Sunday, according to the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal.

The 22-year-old Fluellen rushed for 3,336 yards and 28 touchdowns in four collegiate seasons (2010-2013).

The departure of Fluellen leaves the Eagles with six tailbacks. The Eagles carried just three running backs on the roster in Week One of the 2013 regular season.

Philadelphia has one open roster spot.

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Mike Carey reveals he declined to referee Redskins games

Baltimore Ravens v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Mike Carey, long one of the NFL’s best referees and now a TV analyst, has revealed something that hadn’t previously been disclosed: Over the last several years of his career, he declined to work Redskins games because he was offended by the team’s name.

“The league respectfully honored my request not to officiate Washington,” Carey told the Washington Post. “It happened sometime after I refereed their playoff game in 2006, I think.”

Carey, who was the first African-American to referee a Super Bowl, said that he decided he had had enough after working that playoff game in January of 2006.

“It just became clear to me that to be in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening, was probably not the best thing for me,” Carey said.

Although Carey didn’t want to make a big public show of his opposition to the Washington team’s name, he did say that he didn’t feel right about being a part of games that featured a team whose name is a racial slur.

“Human beings take social stances,” he said. “And if you’re respectful of all human beings, you have to decide what you’re going to do and why you’re going to do it.”

The NFL was able to handle the Carey situation quietly, but this is a growing problem for the league: There’s a substantial portion of the population that opposes the Washington team’s name, and that includes people who work within the NFL.

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Mike Wallace: Dolphins receivers don’t get same calls as other teams

Mike Wallace AP

One of the biggest topics of conversation during the preseason has been the frequent flags thrown for defensive holding and illegal contact following the league’s decision to put a higher emphasis on those calls this season.

Many people have complained about the increase with reasons varying from making it harder to defend the pass to the stultifying pace that games take when flags fly on nearly every play, but at least one player feels that there haven’t been enough flags. Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace said that he and his teammates don’t see the same kind of treatment from the officials as the rest of the league.

“Not on our team. We don’t get those calls,” Wallace said, via the Palm Beach Post. “I don’t know why. That’s not our job to play for calls. We play to play football and make plays. The call, that’s extra.”

Wallace was answering a question about flags because he said he felt he was held while trying to catch a deep pass from Ryan Tannehill against the Buccaneers last week. The response about the hold came to the latest question about when Wallace and Tannehill might find the chemistry that’s eluded them since Wallace signed with the team last season.

Officials may have missed a call last week, but there’s not likely to be much sympathy for further comments about a lack of calls if those two don’t find a way to click in their second year together.

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Steelers sign Brett Keisel to two-year deal

Keisel Getty Images

It’s official — Brett Keisel is returning to the club for whom he’s played his entire career.

The Steelers announced Wednesday they had signed Keisel, a long-time defensive end in the club’s 3-4 scheme, to a two-year contract. The announcement was made on the club’s website.

The 35-year-old Keisel has appeared in 144 regular season games for Pittsburgh since 2002, making 110 starts.

Keisel’s re-signing with Pittsburgh came after Arizona — a popular landing spot for former Steelers in recent years — expressed interest in the veteran defensive lineman.

In a corresponding roster move Wednesday, the Steelers waived first-year defensive tackle Al Lapuaho.

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Former NFL running back is in a pile of trouble now

Armond Smith AP

Armond Smith wasn’t able to rake up enough yards to keep an NFL job, and the latest news about him is going to leaf a lot of people disappointed.

According to Aimee Jones of the Rockdale (Ga.) Citizen, the former Panthers and Browns running back was arrested for stealing a leaf-blower out of the back of a landscaper’s truck parked outside the county courthouse.

Smith was charged with theft by taking (no word on whether he sped away by going fast) after a witness said he saw Smith place a $500 Stihl leaf blower in the back of his own truck.

The witness said Smith’s license plate was obscured by a T-shirt, but courthouse surveillance footage showed him, since he was at the courthouse regarding a domestic violence matter earlier in the day.

So it sounds like his issues may be really piling up.

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Rex Ryan shrugs off Bengals’ criticism of his late blitzes

Rex Ryan AP

Andy Dalton routinely lights up the Jets anyway.

But the next time they see each other, the Bengals have another reason to play their best.

Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander took exception to Rex Ryan’s blitz calls late in Saturday’s game.

Notice he didn’t bring that stuff when our starters were out there,” Alexander said, according to Cincinnati.com. “We’d have scored quicker. If he wants to put his starting defense out there and blitz all that garbage against our third-stringers, if he feels good about it, then all the power to him.”

Ryan wasn’t fazed by the criticism at all.

“I don’t know why they’d be shocked,” Ryan said, via the New York Daily News. “I don’t worry about their team.”

The Jets eventually came back to win the game, but not until Andy Dalton strafed them, going 8-of-8 for 144 yards and a touchdown.

Sadly, the two don’t play in the regular season, but it feels like this one has the legs to last until the postseason, or into future seasons.

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Brandon LaFell creating a niche for himself in New England

Brandon LaFell AP

Brandon LaFell is becoming more and more comfortable with Tom Brady, and the Patriots are envisioning more and more of a role for their new wide receiver.

Via Chris Mason of the Boston Herald, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been impressed with the former second-round pick.

I think he’ll be able to carve out a role for himself here,” Belichick said. “Might be a big one. He’s finding different ways to contribute, whether it’s blocking, receiving or special teams. He’s done whatever we’ve asked of him, and he’s done it well. He’s gotten better at it.”

At the moment, that might include special teams, where LaFell was never really a factor for the Panthers. But he’s a physical receiver who is willing and able to block, which helps make up for hands that are unreliable at times.

But after spending time in Carolina with the improvisational genius of Cam Newton, he’s had to adjust to working with Brady, a completely different kind of quarterback.

“He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be on every route,” LaFell said of Brady. “Not a yard off. Not a yard too deep. Not a yard too short. He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be, because he’s going to put the ball placement exactly right.

“I’m feeling way more comfortable. Just being in the huddle with Brady, hearing him call the plays and stuff like that. I’m way more comfortable.”

He’ll have to catch the ball consistently to stay in Brady’s good gracces, but for now, the Patriots sound pleased with an under-the-radar acquisition.

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Jairus Byrd expected to make Saints debut on Saturday

Jairus Byrd AP

The Saints signed safety Jairus Byrd this offseason in a bid to improve their defense to a level that will allow them to compete for a Super Bowl, so they decided that it was better for him to have back surgery in May than to try to play through a disk injury during the season.

That meant Byrd would have to spend a spell on the sideline watching his teammates practice instead of being on the field with them, but that period has come to an end. Byrd took part in his first full-contact practice since joining the Saints on Tuesday and coach Sean Payton said that he expects Byrd to take another step forward on Saturday when he takes the field against the Colts.

“This is an important game, because he hasn’t been able to play in the first two,” Payton said, via ESPN.com. “Now, we’ll be smart with the reps we give him and the amount we give him, but I don’t think you can just throw the ball out there and play.”

Byrd had 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles while he was a member of the Bills and the Saints would love to see his takeaway skills make the trip with him to Rob Ryan’s defense in New Orleans. If they do, it will fill in a piece missing from last year’s team and make the Saints an even tougher out than they were in making it to the Divisional Round last season.

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Short on QBs, Kendall Wright would love a chance to throw

Kendall Wright AP

With Clipboard Jesus resting (what has it been six days?) with a hand injury, the Titans might be down to just two quarterbacks Saturday night.

But even if Jake Locker and Zach Mettenberger could handle the load with Charlie Whitehurst out, the Titans do have another option.

According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean, wide receiver Kendall Wright would be the emergency quarterback if it ever got to that point.

I’d put Kendall back there in the shotgun and let him run around with it,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He can throw it, too.”

Wright was a high school quarterback in Texas, and sounded excited about the chance.

“I’d be ready,” he said. “If he needed me to do that, I’d do it immediately for him, preseason game, regular season game, any game. … And I think I’d be pretty good back there. I think I could make something happen.”

Whitehurst is apparently dealing with a pinkie finger injury, since that’s what has been taped since last Friday’s game. He hasn’t talked to reporters, and there’s no sense that it’s a long-term injury.

He could probably rise and be fine in a few days, but in case they need him this weekend, Wright will be ready for the call.

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Browns say Brian Hoyer will start, Johnny Manziel will sit

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Brian Hoyer is the Browns’ starting quarterback.

Browns coach Mike Pettine announced this morning that Hoyer will start the Week One game against the Steelers, and Johnny Manziel will be the backup.

“He was the clear leader from the beginning,” Pettine said of Hoyer. “We’ve maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.”

Neither Hoyer nor Manziel has played particularly well in the preseason, but Pettine suggested that Hoyer is the safer, more stable pick.

“I think Brian’s been very poised,” Pettine said. “I think he’s handled the situation well. He’s had a lot of things going on.”

Manziel may be the Browns’ quarterback of the future, but he hasn’t done enough to prove he deserves to be the quarterback of the present. For right now, Hoyer is the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

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Von Miller: If I had to take my pick of 2011 draft class, I’d pick myself

Von Miller AP

There were several star players in the 2011 draft class, including Cam Newton, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green, J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman.

That makes for an interesting barroom debate about which player you’d take first if you could have your pick of all the players selected that spring with the knowledge of how they’ve developed once they hit the NFL. Miller was the second pick in the draft, but the Broncos linebacker said Tuesday that he’d bump himself up a slot if he was given the chance to make such a selection.

“I spend a lot of time with myself, and I am most familiar with myself,” Miller said, via Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. “If I had to make a pick, it would be me.”

Kiszla writes that Miller was laughing as he said it and it’s hardly a shock to hear a professional athlete express confidence in himself even if last year’s suspension and torn ACL make it difficult to see Miller as having provided the most return on investment from his selection.

With DeMarcus Ware now installed across from him, Miller could put up a strong counterargument to that this season and it would come at a very advantageous time. Like Watt, Miller is looking for a contract extension that boosts him to a bigger paycheck and a full return to form this year would be an excellent way to do that.

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Vikings coaches see value in keeping Christian Ponder

Christian Ponder AP

Apparently the Vikings have not been overwhelmed with trade offers for former first-rounder Christian Ponder.

So now they’re talking him up, and trying to salvage his value to their organization.

Clearly buried behind Matt Cassel and the latest savior Teddy Bridgewater, Ponder didn’t even play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Cardinals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a plan for him.

I don’t think there will be just two quarterbacks,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner knows — after blowing through Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell last year in Cleveland — how quickly things can change.

“I was obviously very disappointed in the opening game the way our fans reacted to Christian because I think he’s done everything he can do,” Turner said. “He’s working his butt off. I think he’s a guy who is going to be valuable to our team.”

That value might not be tangible, but Ponder has at least handled this the right way, and hasn’t turned into a distraction such that they’ll be glad to get rid of him. And while his prospects are dim, he did lead (or handed them off) them to the playoffs two years ago, so they may be hoping they can find that spark of acceptability again.

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