Sports briefs, Sept. 27

Posted Sept. 28, 2011, at 12:37 a.m.

Hamlin turns to sports psychologist

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin says he’s been working with a well-known sports psychologist in an attempt to improve his attitude and outlook.

Hamlin has had a disappointing season this year after falling short in his bid to wrest the championship away from Jimmie Johnson. Many have speculated he’s not been the same on or off the track since the week before last year’s season finale.

Hamlin said Tuesday that team owner Joe Gibbs set him up with Bob Rotella, a noted psychologist who has worked with several PGA golfers over the year.

Hamlin says the things he’s learned from Rotella would have made a difference last season.

Jets’ Sanchez says broken nose ‘no big deal’

NEW YORK — Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez says his broken nose is “no big deal” and is feeling a lot better a few days after being injured in a loss to the Oakland Raiders.

Sanchez suffered what the team called a “minor break” in his nose Sunday, but will play in New York’s next game at Baltimore. He was hit in the face on a sack by Oakland’s Kamerion Wimbley in the third quarter and finished by wearing a visor, something he’ll do for at least the next few games.

The GQ magazine cover boy says during his weekly radio appearance on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York that he isn’t concerned about the cosmetic ramifications of the injury, adding, “I’ll break my nose every game as long as we’re going to win.”

NBA, players meet; talks to resume Wednesday

NEW YORK — Negotiators for the NBA and its players met for about two hours and will talk again Wednesday in an effort to end the lockout that has lasted nearly three months.

Both sides said neither concern nor optimism should be read into the brevity of the meeting. They simply needed time to think about what had been discussed.

Commissioner David Stern hinted that Wednesday’s session will determine when more discussions are warranted. It’s been expected there would be no talks Thursday because members of both bargaining teams will be observing the Jewish holiday, but they could resume talks before the weekend.

“They and we have both agreed that so long as there is reason to keep discussing, we will keep discussing, undeterred by the calendar or weekends or things like that,” Stern said. “We will know more after tomorrow’s session.”

The format was again with small groups, and that will remain the case Wednesday. However, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said the owners’ labor relations committee would be prepared to return to the table this week if necessary.

“They stand ready to come to New York, or wherever else, if there’s a reason to continue on Friday,” he said. “So the groups may expand.”

Neither side would say if there were any new proposals, with both using the word “concepts.”

“We’re not holding anybody accountable to ideas being thrown out in the room,” said the Lakers’ Derek fisher, president of the players’ association. “It’s really just a process that we’re trying to go through to see if we can get a deal done.”

With training camps postponed and a week of exhibition games already canceled, players and owners are trying to agree on a labor deal in time to avoid any further damage to the NBA calendar. The regular season begins Nov. 1. To start on time, an agreement must be done by mid-October.

Mets exercise Collins’ option for 2013

NEW YORK — The New York Mets have exercised manager Terry Collins’ contract option for 2013.

General manager Sandy Alderson announced the move before the Mets played the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

The Mets are finishing up their third straight losing season, but Collins’ enthusiastic managerial style has won over veterans and rookies alike.

Collins signed a two-year deal after a wholesale revamping of the Mets’ front office following the 2010 season.

The Mets are 76-84 this year with two games remaining.

Infante agrees to deal with stay with Marlins

MIAMI — Florida Marlins second baseman Omar Infante says he has agreed to terms on an $8 million, two-year contract to remain with the team.

Infante confirmed the deal before Tuesday’s game against Washington. He would have been eligible for free agency after the season.

“I want to stay here,” he said. “The organization gave me an opportunity to play every day. That’s what I want.”

Infante said he was looking forward to playing for fellow Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen, who is expected to be hired this week as the Marlins’ manager.

Infante was acquired last offseason in the deal that sent Dan Uggla to Atlanta. Infante went into Tuesday’s game batting .279 with seven home runs, 49 RBIs and only eight errors in 146 games.

Ga. judge frees Crittenton on bond in murder case

ATLANTA — A judge took the rare step Tuesday of allowing former NBA player Javaris Crittenton, charged with murder in a drive-by shooting, to go free on bond after hearing friends and coaches testify that he was too focused on making a comeback to squander his future on a revenge killing.

Magistrate Judge Karen Smith Woodson took the unusual step to grant him $230,000 bond over the objections of prosecutors, who said they feared Crittenton could threaten witnesses who implicated him in the Aug. 19 shooting death of 22-year-old Julian Jones in Atlanta. The judge, though, banned Crittenton from the crime scene and ordered Paul Hewitt, who was coaching Georgia Tech when Crit tenton starred there, to co-sign the bond with others who spent hours testifying on his behalf Tuesday.

The former first-round draft pick for the Los Angeles Lakers, who was suspended from the NBA after a locker room dispute with ex-teammate Gilbert Arenas, was arrested Aug. 30 at a southern California airport and charged with the shooting. Police said Crittenton was retaliating for being robbed of $55,000 worth of jewelry when Jones was mistakenly hit by gunfire while standing outside her house with a man who wasn’t injured, 18-year-old Trontavious Stephens.

Atlanta Police Det. James Thorpe testified that police charged Crittenton after Stephens identified the player as the shooter in a photo lineup. Thorpe said investigators were told by Stephens that he had a “good, clear look” at the gunman because he stuck his head out of a dark SUV from the back seat. He also said a neighbor who had spotted Crittenton in the neighborhood searching for the jewelry thieves told police that Crittenton was the gunman, according to authorities.

Defense attorney Brian Steel said the charges were based on faulty eyewitness testimony and that no physical evidence linked the player to the shooting. Police haven’t located blood or DNA evidence. His fingerprints weren’t found in the black SUV he rented hours before the shooting took place, and tests for gunpowder residue are still pending.

Steel also disputed assertions from authorities who said Crittenton stuck his head and arms out of the back of the vehicle. He noted that the window of the black Chevrolet Tahoe he was accused of riding in only gave him about six inches of space.

“There’s no physical evidence,” Steel said. “There’s no gun. There are no confessions.”

Crittenton’s friends and family, who packed the courtroom and a nearby overflow area, said he was too busy training for his return to the league to worry about stolen jewelry.

His longtime friend Darryl Slack said Crittenton made it his mission in life to be on an NBA roster, and his agent Mark Bartelstein testified that his client had turned down offers to play overseas so he could try out for a few NBA squads when the league’s lockout ended.

“He was really focused. He had something to prove,” Bartelstein said.

Crittenton is an Atlanta native who starred at Georgia Tech before being drafted by the Lakers in 2007. He was later traded to the Washington Wizards, where he and then-teammate Gilbert Arenas had a dispute over a card game in December 2009. Two days later, Arenas brought four guns to the locker room and set them in front of Crittenton’s locker with a sign telling him to “PICK 1.” Crit tenton then took out his own gun.

Crittenton pleaded guilty in January 2010 to a misdemeanor gun charge and received a year of unsupervised probation.

He has struggled to get back into the NBA after that episode, playing overseas in China for some months before returning in January to play for the NBA developmental league’s Dakota Wizards. The move was a wakeup call for Crittenton, said Hewitt, now head basketball coach of George Mason University.

“Being there got his attention, He said, ‘Coach, it’s so cold up here my lungs hurt,”’ Hewitt said. “It helped him refocus.”

In April, Crittenton told police that he and a friend were leaving a barbershop when two teenagers surprised them. One of the men held Crittenton at gunpoint and forced him to hand over a $25,000 black diamond necklace, a $30,000 black diamond watch, an iPhone and $25 cash, according to a police report.

Stephens has told The Associated Press he had never met Crittenton and wasn’t involved in the robbery. Police have said they don’t believe Jones, a 23-year-old mother of four, was the intended target, but they haven’t said who they believe the gunman was after.

“I didn’t know him at all,” said Stephens.

The day of the shooting, Hewitt said, he spoke to Crittenton and that he sounded “very upbeat” after some good workouts. He then traveled to visit his ex-girlfriend Mia Fields on a long-planned trip to Los Angeles when he learned police had charged him in the killing, she testified Tuesday.

“He looked shocked, paralyzed and in fear,” she told the court. “He said, ‘I didn’t do this and I can’t believe they are blaming me for this.”’

Jack Barrs, a prosecutor in Atlanta’s Fulton County, didn’t address Crittenton’s journey to California before his arrest. But he urged the judge to keep Crittenton in custody so he can’t threaten the witnesses crucial to the case.

“This case is about retaliation and revenge,” he said. “And as a result of his actions a totally innocent person is dead.”

But Steel vowed his client wouldn’t violate the conditions of his release and said that doing so could sacrifice a lucrative NBA salary. And Crittenton’s pastor, Mark Allen Couch, told the court there was little doubt where the athlete would be each weekend.

“I expect to see him at church,” he said.

GLAAD calls for Simmonds apology for anti-gay slur

NEW YORK — The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is calling for Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds to apologize for a slur he appeared to utter toward Sean Avery of the New York Rangers.

The organization also want the NHL to educate its fans about such hate speech.

Video replay appeared to catch Simmonds making an anti-gay slur to Avery during a preseason game in Philadelphia on Monday night. Avery confirmed that Simmonds made the remark, and Simmonds didn’t deny saying it.

“Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink,” GLAAD acting president Mike Thompson said in a statement. “The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at LGBT youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility.

“He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.”

GLAAD said it is talking to the Flyers and the NHL about what specific steps can be taken.

The NHL didn’t immediately comment.

GLAAD said it has worked with sports leagues such as the NBA, Major League Baseball, and the World Wrestling Federation to address issues of homophobia in sports.

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