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Newsmakers: Bill Kennedy, Serena Williams, Johnny Cueto, Phil Pepe

Revealed Veteran NBA referee Bill Kennedy revealed Sunday night that he is gay, telling Yahoo Sports, “I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man.

”I am following in the footsteps of others who have self-identified in the hopes that will send a message to young men and women in sports that you must allow no one to make you feel ashamed of who you are.“

Kennedy’s announcement came after the NBA on Friday issued a one-game suspension of Kings guard Rajon Rondo, whom the league determined had directed anti-gay slurs at Kennedy and followed him across the court after Kennedy, 49, ejected him in the third quarter of a Dec. 3 game against the Celtics in Mexico City.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Yahoo in a statement, ”I wholeheartedly support Bill’s decision to live his life proudly and openly. Throughout his 18-year career with the league, Bill has excelled as a referee because of his passion, dedication and courage.

“Those qualities will continue to serve him well both as a game official and as a positive influence for others. While our league has made great progress, our work continues to ensure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity.”

Kennedy is the second NBA referee to publicly acknowledge being gay. Violet Palmer did so last year.

Honored Serena Williams is Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year – the first female athlete honored on her own by the magazine in more than 30 years.

Williams came within two matches of tennis’ first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988, a bid that ended with a semifinal loss at the U.S. Open.

In all, the 34-year-old American went 53-3 during 2015 with five titles, including at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. Williams was No. 1 in the WTA rankings all season.

“She was the most deserving person for the award. She had an amazing year. The way she won her events; the fact that she’s done this for so many years at such a high level,” said Paul Fichtenbaum, editor of the Sports Illustrated Group. “She was a terrific candidate in a year of terrific candidates.”

Runner Mary Decker in 1983 was the last female athlete to earn the magazine’s award by herself.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team was picked by SI in 1999; speedskater Bonnie Blair in 1994 and gymnast Mary Lou Retton in 1984 were co-honorees with male Olympians.

Signed The San Francisco Giants’ upgraded rotation is taking shape, with the 2014 World Series champions agreeing with Johnny Cueto on a $130 million, six-year contract.

Cueto is set to join a rotation led by left-hander Madison Bumgarner and new addition righty Jeff Samardzija, who was introduced Friday after formalizing his $90 million, five-year contract – one week after the team lost out to the Diamondbacks on Zack Greinke.

Cueto’s deal was pending a physical, the team said, and contains a team option for 2022. He is likely to be introduced later this week at AT&T Park.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Cueto went 11-13 with a 3.44 ERA in 32 starts for Cincinnati and Kansas City, which acquired him in a trade July 26. He was 4-7 for the Royals in the regular season and 2-1 in the postseason, including pitching a two-hitter that gave Kansas City a 2-0 World Series lead over the New York Mets.

Signed Trevor Cahill and the Chicago Cubs have finalized a $4.25 million, one-year contract, a deal that allows him to earn an additional $7.5 million million based on starts.

The 27-year-old right-hander went 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA in 11 relief appearances with the Cubs last season after agreeing to a minor league deal on Aug. 18 and joining the big league club when rosters expanded on Sept. 1.

Signed Right-hander Yusmeiro Petit has completed a $3 million, one-year contract with the Washington Nationals.

The deal pays Petit $2.5 million in 2016 and includes a club option of $3 million in 2017, with a $500,000 buyout. That option would become guaranteed if Petit were to pitch at least 80 innings in 2016 – a total he has surpassed twice in eight major league seasons.

Washington announced the agreement Monday.

In 2015, Petit threw 76 innings for the San Francisco Giants, going 1-1 with a 3.67 ERA in 42 appearances, all but one as a reliever.

Died Phil Pepe, a revered baseball writer and radio voice who spent more than five decades covering sports in New York, died Sunday. He was 80.

Pepe died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Englewood, New Jersey, his son, David, told The Associated Press.

A longtime New York Yankees beat writer who chronicled franchise greats from Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter, Pepe also authored dozens of books on some of the biggest names in sports. He covered such famous athletes as Muhammad Ali and Walt Frazier during a prolific career that spanned generations.

“He truly, truly loved what he did,” David Pepe said. “He always felt he was blessed to do what he did for a living. He had a real passion for baseball.”

Pepe joined the Yankees beat with the New York World Telegram & Sun in 1961, the year Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, and covered the team for the New York Daily News from 1968-81.

Pepe wrote the newspaper’s lead game story for every World Series from 1969-81 and then succeeded Dick Young as its sports columnist in 1982, the Daily News said.

After leaving the paper in 1989, Pepe did morning sports for WCBS radio for more than 15 years – including his popular “Pep Talk” segment.

He also was the director of broadcasting and a radio analyst for the Class A New Jersey Cardinals of the New York-Penn League from 1994-2005, the Daily News said.

In the meantime, Pepe churned out sports books at a vigorous pace. He wrote nearly 50 of them, including co-authoring Mantle’s autobiography “My Favorite Summer: 1956”, which rose to No. 7 on The New York Times bestseller list.

He co-wrote Bob Gibson’s autobiography, and wrote books with Whitey Ford, Gary Carter and Tim McCarver, among others. Pepe’s final book, in 2013, was on the Yankees’ celebrated “Core Four” of Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, the Daily News said.

Hired Bob Nielson of Western Illinois, the reigning coach of the year in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, has been named the new head coach at South Dakota.

Nielson will succeed Joe Glenn, who retired after four seasons at South Dakota.

The 56-year-old Neilson has compiled a 186-80-1 record in 23 seasons as a head coach. He’s been at Western Illinois the last three seasons. Before that he coached Ripon College, Wartburg College, Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Minnesota Duluth. He led Duluth to NCAA Division II national championships in 2008 and 2010, and he was voted Division II coach of the year following both seasons.

Nielson this season led Western Illinois to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Hired Louisiana-Monroe has hired Matt Viator as the Warhawks’ next head football coach, luring him away from McNeese State, where he never had a losing season during the past decade.

Viator went 78-33 during 10 seasons at McNeese State, coaching the Cowboys to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs five times.

He was named Southland Conference coach of the year for the third time after leading McNeese State to a 2015 regular season record of 10-0. The Cowboys then advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs before falling to Sam Houston State, 34-29.

Viator replaces Todd Berry, who was ULM’s coach from 2010 until his firing during this season, which the Warhawks finished with a record of 2-11.

First Sporting Kansas City signed veteran Justin Mapp, making the midfielder the first free agent to sign a contract in Major League Soccer history.

The league introduced free agency in the collective bargaining agreement signed this year.

The 31-year-old Mapp has scored 23 goals with 70 assists in 318 games with D.C. United, Chicago, Montreal and Philadelphia. He also earned eight appearances with the U.S. national team from 2005-07,

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