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‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

MORE: Elana Meyers Taylor’s claims of racism in bobsled being investigated

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Grigor Dimitrov has coronavirus; Novak Djokovic tennis event canceled

Grigor Dimitrov
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Grigor Dimitrov has tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the cancellation of an exhibition event in Croatia where top-ranked Novak Djokovic was due to play in the final.

Dimitrov, ranked No. 19 and a three-time Grand Slam semifinalist, is the highest-profile current player to say he has the virus. His announcement Sunday on his Instagram page comes at the end of a week when the U.S. Open said it would go forward.

The professional tennis tours have been suspended since March and are planning to resume in August.

Goran Ivanisevic, one of Djokovic’s coaches, said the news from Dimitrov was “shocking” and that “now everyone will have to be tested.”

Dimitrov said he was making his condition public because he wanted to “make sure anyone who has been in contact with me during these past days gets tested.”

“I am so sorry for any harm I might have caused,” he wrote.

The Bulgarian featured last week in the Serbia leg of the Adria Tour exhibition event organized by Djokovic. There was criticism that there was no social distancing at the exhibition, which took place before packed stands in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. The Serbian government lifted most virus restrictions last month despite dozens of new cases being registered.

Dimitrov also played a match against Borna Coric in Croatia, at the Adriatic resort of Zadar, on Saturday in the second leg of the exhibition series. After the match, he complained about fatigue. He said in his post that he was tested in Monaco.

Organizers said Sunday the exhibition has now been canceled. Djokovic had been scheduled to play Russia’s Andrey Rublev in the final.

Besides Djokovic, other leading players participated in the events, including Dominic Thiem in Belgrade and Alexander Zverev in both tournaments.

“We are really sorry, we tried our best to respect all measures, and we did respect all measures imposed by the governments of Serbia and Croatia,” said event director Djordje Djokovic, the younger brother of Novak Djokovic.

“From our side, we did all we could but Grigor is unfortunately positive. At this moment we are organizing all medical services to check all people who have been in contact with Grigor, they will all be tested. I already contacted all players of the Adria Tour, and their families, all of the volunteers, all people involved in organization – absolutely none of them have any symptoms.”

He added: “Before he came to Zadar, Grigor was in his home country (Bulgaria), we don’t know if he got the virus there. All of the people who had close contact with him here will be tested.”

Novak Djokovic has initially struck a skeptical tone if he would play at the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13.

Some of the sport’s top names, including defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal along with top-ranked Ash Barty have expressed reservations about heading somewhere that was a hot spot for the COVID-19 outbreak. Others expressed an eagerness to return to action.

The U.S. Open normally is the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of each season but would be the second major of 2020, following the Australian Open, which concluded in early February.

Serena Williams to play U.S. Open without fans

Serena Williams
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Here’s how all-in Serena Williams is on participating in the 2020 U.S. Open: She set up a practice area at her home with the new brand of hard courts being used at Flushing Meadows this year.

For all the doubts about which top players will actually enter the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the coronavirus pandemic, the biggest name in the sport made clear Wednesday that she intends to be there when the main draw begins Aug. 31.

“Ultimately, I really cannot wait to return to New York,” Williams said in a video that was shown during the U.S. Tennis Association presentation of plans for its marquee event.

“I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe,” said the owner of an Open-era record 23 major singles titles. “It’s going to be exciting. It (will have been) six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis.”

The women’s and men’s tours have been suspended since early March because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The French Open was postponed from May to September, while Wimbledon was canceled for the first time in 75 years.

The USTA got the green light Tuesday from the New York state government to go ahead with its proposal for a scaled-down tournament. There will be no spectators, fewer events, fewer on-court officials and regular temperature checks and occasional nasal swabs for COVID-19. Most players — and their reduced entourages — will stay at two designated hotels, although more expensive private homes are also an option.

“I’ll certainly miss the fans, don’t get me wrong,” said Williams, a 38-year-old American. “Just being out there, and that New York crowd, and hearing everyone cheer. I’ll really miss that, getting me through some of those tough matches.”

Her backing for the tournament — she has won it six times and was the runner-up in 2018 and 2019 — is certainly a boost for broadcaster ESPN and perhaps will help sway other uncertain players to compete, too.

“It’s clear we’re extremely excited and appreciative she’s committed this early to play the tournament,” USTA CEO Mike Dowse said. “As we all know, she transcends tennis. She’s so much bigger than our sport.”

Defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal and both No. 1-ranked players, Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty, have expressed varying levels of concern about heading to New York. Simona Halep, a two-time major champion, said Wednesday she is leaning toward not playing.

“It’s a real mixed reaction right now,” Steve Simon, the CEO of the women’s tour, said in a telephone interview. “It’s going to be fluid, but we’re going to see an awful lot of players wanting to come back and play again if they can travel and obviously if they feel like it’s a safe environment to play in.”

New York was, at one point, the coronavirus epicenter in the U.S. — a facility housing indoor courts at the U.S. Open’s site in Queens was used as a field hospital with hundreds of beds at the height of the crisis — but cases have dropped significantly and the city has started reopening.

Tournament director Stacey Allaster said Williams was one of several people — including players, coaches and agents — she’s been in touch with via email, telephone or video calls about possible participation.

“Through the journey, and as word started to spread earlier this week that the event was happening, I did (hear) that they want to play and that they are training and that they’re comfortable with the plan,” Allaster said. “It will be an evolving journey and, ultimately, the athletes will decide. And we’re confident that who decides (to come) will put on a great show with great stars.”

Halep is currently ranked No. 2 and is the reigning champion at Wimbledon. She also won the French Open in 2018.

Her best showing at Flushing Meadows was a semifinal appearance in 2015.

“Given the conditions outlined in the U.S. Open announcement this morning, as of today I do not currently plan to play in NYC,” Halep said in a statement emailed to the AP. “However, as we know, this situation is fluid and that the conditions may change and improve before the entry deadline in mid July. I would like to underline that my decision is not set in stone.”

Another two-time major champion, Petra Kvitova, released a statement that indicated she has yet to decide whether to go to New York.

“Hopefully the COVID-19 numbers and conditions around travel restrictions continue to improve,” Kvitova said, “in order to make the decision to play an easy one.”

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