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N.F.L. Adviser to Hear the Appeal of Deshaun Watson’s Suspension

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The N.F.L. appointed Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, to hear its appeal of the six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for multiple violations of the N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy, according to a league spokesman.

On Wednesday, the N.F.L. appealed Watson’s suspension, which was issued by a third-party disciplinary officer after a three-day hearing in June that probed accusations that he had engaged in sexually coercive and lewd behavior during massages. Sue L. Robinson, the retired federal judge jointly appointed by the league and the N.F.L. Players Association, found that Watson had engaged in “predatory” and “egregious” conduct but suggested that she was limited in her authority to mete out stricter discipline by the N.F.L.’s policies and past rulings.

The union has until Friday to file a response to the league’s appeal, but there is no deadline for Harvey to issue a ruling. The league has said the appeal will be heard on an “expedited” basis.

Watson has denied the allegations against him. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on criminal charges, and he has settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed against him by women who said he assaulted or harassed them during massage appointments.

His is the first player-conduct hearing to have gone through a third-party arbitrator, a new process prescribed in 2020 by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union. Per its terms, the arbitrator issued an initial ruling, which either side could appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person of his choosing. The league still holds immense sway over the final outcome because it has what amounts to veto power.

Before Robinson suspended Watson for six games, the N.F.L. asked for at least a full-year suspension. The league is seeking the same penalty in its appeal, and it has also recommended a fine and treatment for Watson, according to a person with knowledge of the brief that the N.F.L. submitted Wednesday but who is not authorized to speak publicly about it. The N.F.L. also cited concerns about Watson’s lack of remorse, as did Robinson in her report on her decision.

Robinson’s discipline did not include a fine or counseling for Watson but did mandate as a condition of his reinstatement that he use only team-approved massage therapists, in team-directed sessions, for the duration of his career.

Harvey, a partner at Patterson Belknap in New York and a former federal prosecutor, has worked on addressing violence against women, including through a sexual-assault response team initiative he led as attorney general. He also is a board member of Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit organization that seeks policy solutions to end violence against women and children.

Harvey helped the N.F.L. rewrite its personal conduct policy in 2014 and sits on the league’s diversity advisory committee created in March. He was a member of the four-person panel that advised Goodell in 2017 during the N.F.L.’s investigation and subsequent suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was accused of domestic violence but not criminally charged.

Goodell suspended Elliott for six games after consulting with the advisory panel.

Tony Buzbee, the lawyer for Watson’s accusers, held a news conference Thursday afternoon in which he called the N.F.L.’s record on violence against women “sketchy and sad,” and he urged Goodell to issue a stronger penalty. Ashley Solis, the licensed massage therapist who filed the first lawsuit against Watson in March 2021, read a statement criticizing the N.F.L.’s handling of the accusations against Watson. Solis settled her claim against Watson the night before Robinson released her decision.

“What do the actions of the N.F.L. say to little girls who have suffered at the hands of someone perceived to have power?” Solis said. “That it’s not a big deal? That they don’t care?” She said that is the message she had taken from the league’s response.

Goodell and the league have been criticized for years because the commissioner handled all aspects of violations of the personal conduct policy, including gathering facts, handing down punishments and hearing appeals.

The union fought to diminish some of Goodell’s powers in the latest C.B.A. by having a jointly approved disciplinary officer listen to presentations from the league and union and mete out a penalty. But if the disciplinary officer finds there is a violation of the personal conduct policy, Goodell or his designee still have final say over the extent of the discipline.

During its 15-month investigation into the allegations against Watson, the N.F.L. interviewed 49 people, including Watson, 12 of his accusers and other witnesses. Not all of the women who filed lawsuits against Watson chose to interview with the league.

The union could decide to challenge the results of the appeal in federal court, as it has done with other player conduct decisions in the past. But courts tend not to interfere with companies and unions that have jointly approved arbitration and appeals processes, as the league and the players’ association did.

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Knicks vs. Bulls prediction: NBA picks, odds

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The NBA’s longest win streak is finally over after the Knicks suffered their first loss in nine games on Wednesday. Expect New York to start a new streak Friday against a team it dominated the last time they faced off.

The Knicks were playing like the best team in basketball during their lengthy win streak, posting the league’s best net rating (+17.3) with six double-digit victories in that eight-game run. That included a 23-point beat-down of the Bulls exactly a week ago, when New York drained 17 3s and saw three players score at least 22 points in an easy win.

Knicks vs. Bulls (7:30 p.m. Eastern) prediction: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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That game marked the worst offensive showing of the season for Chicago (91 points), which has struggled with chemistry and spacing issues all year long. The Bulls rank dead last in 3-point attempts per game (28.8) and third-worst in offensive rebounding rate (23.6%), which leaves very few easy scoring chances for one of the NBA’s worst offenses.

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It’s the opposite story for the Knicks, who boast three legitimate shot-creators and also rank among the league leaders in points in the paint. Julius Randle (31 points) relentlessly attacked this Chicago defense in their first meeting before allowing RJ Barrett (27 points) to lead the way in the second affair — his fourth of five straight games with at least 22 points. 

I don’t see this Knicks attack slowing down against one of the league’s most inconsistent defenses. And until Zach LaVine returns to his All-Star form, I’m skeptical of the Bulls’ offense showing up on Friday, too.

Knicks vs. Bulls pick: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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Devils vs. Bruins prediction: Bet on New Jersey to end slide on NHL Friday

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After starting the season 21-4-1, it looked like the New Jersey Devils were going to run away with the Metropolitan Division as one of the very best teams in the NHL.

Not only were the Devils cruising, but their underlying metrics were elite. New Jersey was the best 5-on-5 team through the first quarter of the season.

Three weeks and one six-game losing streak later, and the Devils have fallen back to earth and are now two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division. 

The Devils were able to get off the schneid with a win over Florida on Wednesday, but the task doesn’t get any easier with the league-leading Boston Bruins in town.

New Jersey is a slight +102 home underdog against Boston starting at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and the NHL Network.  

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Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
NHLI via Getty Images

Bruins vs. Devils prediction

Even though the Devils have struggled to get results over their last 10 contests, their underlying numbers don’t suggest there’s all that much wrong with how they’re playing. New Jersey isn’t posting the pace-setting numbers it did through Thanksgiving, but it’s still skating to the fifth-best expected goals rate and high-danger scoring chance rate in the league over its last 10 contests.  

Those numbers should help ease any sense of panic that New Jersey could continue to fall back further into the pack as we head toward the New Year. 

So if New Jersey is still tilting the ice in the right direction, what is the issue for the Devils? 

For one thing, the Devs are struggling to find the back of the net like they did when they were rolling. New Jersey has scored just nine goals in its last five games, and four of those tallies came in a 4-2 victory over Florida on Wednesday. Over their last 10 games, the Devils rank 25th in the NHL with a 6.56% shooting percentage. 

Additionally, the Devils are not getting the goaltending needed to stabilize them. New Jersey’s netminders were always thought to be the team’s biggest weakness, and that has started to show lately as the Devils rank 23rd in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage over the last 10 games.

Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
NHLI via Getty Images

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The Bruins, meanwhile, continue to roll. Boston is 7-1-2 over its last 10 contests and ranks third in the league over that span in expected goals rate and fourth in high-danger chance percentage. The Bruins pace the NHL with a +54 goal differential, which is 25 goals better than the team in second (Toronto). 

But as impressive as Boston has been over its first 31 games of the season, the Bruins are playing on a back-to-back on Friday, while the Devils were off on Thursday night. 

The Bruins are the better team in a vacuum, but this is a good buy-low spot on the Devils, who are still playing solid hockey but are just not getting the results.

Devils vs. Bruins pick

New Jersey Devils +102 (FanDuel)

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At the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a Female Crew of Two

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Kathy Veel has come a long way since 1989, when she first sailed in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with an all-female crew on the Belles Long Ranger.

“It started off with four of us women — we figured, let’s give it a shot,” said Veel, 70, a retired teacher who lives in Bullaburra, about 60 miles west of Sydney, Australia. “We didn’t have a boat. We didn’t have any money. It was a real start from scratch. No one took us seriously.”

Not anymore. Veel is now back for her third Sydney Hobart, which starts on Monday, this time also breaking ground. She will be part of the only all-female crew competing in the race’s two-handed division on the Currawong, at 30 feet long the second smallest boat in the fleet. She will be sailing with Bridget Canham, 62, of Sydney, a veteran of several Sydney Hobart races.

Veel said that in 1989, there were doubts the crew of women could handle the grueling conditions of the race.

“We were kind of a token gesture,” she said. “There were a lot of people who didn’t think we were up to it. They would ask, what we were going to do when it’s blowing 30 knots and the boat is swamped? We’ll be doing pretty much what they’ll be doing — putting up sails and racing the boat.”

Their goal was to simply finish the race, which they did. “It opened the door for us,” Veel said.

“Women in sailing have come so far,” she said. “Most boats these days have got women on them. And that’s great.”

Canham, a retired nurse who volunteers as an emergency boat pilot, said sailing had indeed changed.

“Sailing is more of an integrated sport now,” she said. “Now, it’s just by coincidence that we are just two women on a boat. We’re just sailors. We don’t think of ourselves as anything different.”

The two-handed division, where a boat is raced by two sailors — as opposed to a large crew ranging from 6 to 25 — is now in its second year at the Sydney Hobart. For Veel and Canham, the draw of two-handed racing is access.

“Having a fully crewed racing yacht was way outside of my resources,” Veel said. “I’m retired. But now that they have the two-handed, we can do the race. It gives people the opportunity to sail in the race who aren’t on a fully crewed yacht.” Yearly maintenance on two-handed boats might be $10,000, while much larger yachts require millions of dollars to maintain.

Canham also said the sailors in the two-handed division were a tightknit group. “The two-handed community is just so supportive; it’s like we are all on the same team,” she said.

Veel and Canham generally split duties on the boat, taking turns on the sails and at the wheel, with Canham focusing on sails and Veel on navigation and race tactics.

“Bridget knows the wind and is good at getting the best out of the boat,” Veel said. “She’ll have every sail tweaked and tuned. She never takes her eye off the ball. She’s also extremely gutsy and strong-minded and determined.”

Veel and Canham have prepared for the event by sailing in four other races this year. Over that time, they realized the boat, a Currawong 30, built in 1974 with beaten 20-year-old sails, needed upgrades, but they’ve accepted its limits.

“We’ve been able to test out our boat in these previous races, but it really has felt that 90 percent of this race has been just getting to the start line,” Veel said. “We’ve just been focused on getting the boat ready. Now that we are there, and there are no more obstacles between us and the race, that’s when I’m starting to wonder what have I got myself into. Now it’s real.”

Canham heads into the race committed, but knows their limitations.

“No one is expecting us to do anything,” she said. “But I don’t think they realize just how determined we are.”

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