NFL: Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and three other players suspended in the NFL’s investigation of New Orleans’ cash-for-hits bounty system challenged their punishments Monday.
Vilma, named by the NFL as a ringleader of the operation, appealed his season-long suspension while the NFL Players Association notified the league it was reserving the appeal rights of Saints defensive end Will Smith and those of ex-Saints Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita.
All four players and the union argue that no appeal should be heard before NFLPA grievances are resolved questioning NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s authority to discipline the players and to hear their appeals.
Vilma’s appeal also states the NFL has not presented any evidence linking him to a system in which players were paid to injure opponents. It asks the league to provide a wide range of documentation, including witness statements and the names of those witnesses.
Vilma received the harshest of the suspensions, followed by Hargrove (eight games) Smith (four games) and Fujita (three games).
Last week, former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White, who was hired by the NFL to evaluate its bounty investigation, said there was evidence from “multiple independent sources” that shows players received payments for going after particular opponents.
The NFL has said its investigation included 18,000 documents comprising nearly 50,000 pages.
White said the NFL has shared ample evidence with suspended players and the NFLPA, and she also said that concealing the identity of witnesses is important in terms of not only protecting those who help investigations but encouraging more to step forward in the future.
The Saints already have been punished heavily in connection with the probe.
Head coach Sean Payton has been suspended the entire 2012 season, while suspensions of eight games were handed down to general manager Mickey Loomis and six games to assistant head coach Joe Vitt.The club also was fined $500,000 and docked two second-round draft choices this year and next.
Rangers rally late, win thriller in OT
NHL Playoffs: Marc Staal scored a power-play goal 1:35 into overtime after Brad Richards tied it in the dying seconds of regulation to lift the Rangers to a stunning 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in New York.
With goalie Henrik Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker, Washington’s Joel Ward took a four-minute penalty for high-sticking Carl Hagelin with 21.3 seconds left in the third period. Richards tied it on the first half of the power play with just 7.6 seconds to go, and Staal won it with a drive that appeared to deflect off a Washington player before beating goalie Braden Holtby.
The top-seeded Rangers can advance to the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday in Washington.
• Phoenix advances past Nashville: Mike Smith stopped 32 shots and the Phoenix Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 in Glendale, Ariz., to earn their first trip to the Western Conference finals.
Phoenix withstood a late goal by Nashville’s Colin Wilson to reach the conference finals for the first time in 33 years as an NHL franchise.
• Coyotes reach tentative deal to sell team: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the league has reached a preliminary agreement to sell the team to a group headed by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.
Paul leads Clippers past Grizzlies in OT
NBA: Chris Paul scored eight of his 27 points in a dynamic overtime performance, and the Clippers moved to the brink of their second playoff series victory in 36 years with a 101-97 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Los Angeles, taking a 3-1 series lead.
Blake Griffin had 30 points and seven assists before fouling out with 2:26 left in overtime for the Clippers, who blew a 10-point lead in the final 4 1/2 minutes of regulation before their All-Star point guard took charge in the overtime.
Mike Conley scored a career playoff-high 25 points and Rudy Gay had 23 on 8-of-25 shooting for the Grizzlies, who couldn’t match Paul’s late-game poise in another thrilling chapter of a highly entertaining series.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Memphis, with Game 6 back at Staples Center on Friday if necessary.
• Spurs down Jazz to advance: Manu Ginobili broke out of his shooting slump with 17 points to lead the San Antonio Spurs to an 87-81 victory over the Utah Jazz at Salt Lake City to complete a sweep of their first-round Western Conference series.
Ginobili was 0 for 8 from beyond the arc in the first three games. But after Utah pulled within 61-58 with 3:18 left in the third, he hit consecutive 3-pointers then added another as the Spurs regained control, taking a 76-58 lead early in the fourth.
The Jazz went scoreless for more than 8 minutes during a 15-0 Spurs run. Utah made a furious charge late and was within 83-79 on Al Jefferson’s putback with 49 seconds left.
But Ginobili’s fastbreak layup after a steal by Tony Parker sealed it.
Utah’s Big 3 lineup with Derrick Favors at power forward kept the Jazz close, but San Antonio’s bench made the difference, outscoring the Jazz reserves 47-10.
Late crash highlights stage at Giro d’Italia
Miscellany: Matthew Goss of Australia won the third stage of the Giro d’Italia, while world champion Mark Cavendish and overall leader Taylor Phinney were involved in a crash in the high-speed sprint finish at Horsens, Denmark.
Phinney maintained the overall lead, since times are neutralized when there are crashes at the end of flat stages.
Cavendish, who won stage 2 on Sunday, fell hard on his left shoulder but got up and carried his bike across the finish.
The BMC team said Phinney’s right ankle had a puncture wound. The American also had scrapes on his right elbow and limped up to the pink jersey podium celebration.
With today being a rest day before the race travels back to Italy, Phinney and Cavendish have some time to recover.
• Illinois State hires Muller as men’s basketball coach: Illinois State has hired longtime Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller, a former Illinois State player, to be its next men’s basketball coach.
The school announced that it will hold a news conference today to introduce Muller as the program’s 19th coach.
Muller played at Illinois State under current Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stalling from 1995-98 and has been part of his staff in Nashville, Tenn., since 2000.
Muller replaces Tim Jankovich, who left last month after five seasons to join Larry Brown’s staff at SMU.
• U.S. hockey loses to Slovakia: The United States lost to Slovakia 4-2 in Helsinki, for its first loss at hockey’s world championships after opening with two victories.
Slovakia won for the first time in the tournament after two defeats. The Americans previously beat France and Canada.
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