WASHINGTON (AP)American basketball star Brittney Griner headed home Thursday night, freed from Russian prison in exchange for the U.S. releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in the culmination of an eight-month saga of high diplomacy and dashed hopes.
But the U.S. failed to win freedom for another American, Paul Whelan, jailed in Russia for nearly four years.
The deal, the second in eight months amid tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, secured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad and achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden. Yet it carried what U.S. officials conceded was a heavy price.
”She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said from the White House, where he was accompanied by Griner’s wife, Cherelle.
Biden’s authorization to release Bout, the Russian felon once nicknamed ”the Merchant of Death,” underscored the heightened urgency that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case on drug charges and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony. Griner, who also played pro basketball in Russia, was arrested at an airport there after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil.
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Baylor University All-American and Phoenix Mercury pro basketball star, whose arrest made her the most high-profile American jailed abroad. Her status as an openly gay Black woman, locked up in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LBGTQ community, injected racial, gender and social dynamics into her legal saga and brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and that Bout had been flown home.
ATLANTA (AP) – Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray is expected to miss about two weeks with a sprained left ankle.
Murray was hurt Wednesday night early in the first quarter of a loss to the New York Knicks.
NEW YORK (AP) – New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin will miss at least two weeks because of a fracture in his right leg.
Toppin was hurt in the second quarter of the Knicks’ victory over Atlanta on Wednesday night. He has a non-displaced fracture in his right fibula head.
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams is The Associated Press college football player of the year, becoming the school’s first winner of the award since 2005 with his stellar debut season for the Trojans.
Williams received 32 of the 46 first-place votes and 117 total points from AP Top 25 poll voters to win the award presented by Regions Bank. The Heisman Trophy favorite finished well ahead of TCU quarterback Max Duggan, who came in second with six first-place votes and 64 points.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was third, with Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker in fourth and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett fifth. Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr., the first repeat SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was the only non-quarterback in the top eight, finishing sixth.
Williams, Stroud, Duggan and Bennett are the finalists for the Heisman, which will be presented in New York on Saturday. The winner of the AP award has differed from the Heisman winner just twice in the past two decades.
Later Thursday, during the ESPN College Football Awards show, Williams won the Maxwell Award as the most outstanding player in college football, but Duggan beat out Williams for the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback.
Other winners included Anderson, who claimed the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player; Olusegun Oluwatimi of Michigan, who won the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman; and Bijan Robinson of Texas, who claimed the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Louisville hired Jeff Brohm as football coach, concluding a whirlwind process that ended with the school welcoming home a native son who had a hand in the Cardinals’ success as a player and assistant coach.
The University of Louisville Athletic Association’s executive board approved a six-year contract that will pay the former Purdue coach a base salary of $5 million next season with annual increases of $100,000, plus incentives.
Brohm, who was a Louisville quarterback and minor league baseball player, succeeds Scott Satterfield, who left Monday to become Cincinnati’s coach.
Shortly after Louisville announced it had hired Brohm, Boilermakers athletic director Mike Bobinski named Brohm’s younger brother, offensive coordinator Brian, interim coach for the Citrus Bowl game against No. 17 LSU on Jan. 2.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) – Western Michigan hired Louisville offensive coordinator Lance Taylor to lead its football program.
The 41-year-old Taylor coached running backs for three seasons each at Notre Dame and Stanford. He was also an assistant at Appalachian State and with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New York Jets.
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Washington Commanders had a ”toxic work culture” for more than two decades, ”ignoring and downplaying sexual misconduct” and what former female employees described as hundreds of instances of sexual harassment by men at the top levels of the organization, according to a report published by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The misconduct included Commanders owner Dan Snyder, who is accused of inappropriately touching a former employee at a dinner, having staffers produce a video ”of sexually suggestive footage of cheerleaders” and ordering that women auditioning to be cheerleaders walk on the field ”while he and his friends gawked from his suite through binoculars,” according to the report.
The House committee opened its investigation in October 2021 after the NFL did not release a written report of its review of the team’s workplace culture. The league’s independent review by attorney Beth Wilkinson was completed in summer 2021 and resulted in a $10 million fine to the team.
NEW YORK (AP) – Center fielder Brandon Nimmo is staying with the free-spending New York Mets, agreeing to a $162 million, eight-year contract, according to a person familiar with the deal.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement is subject to a successful physical and no announcement had been made.
A quality leadoff hitter with an excellent eye and a .385 career on-base percentage, Nimmo became a free agent last month for the first time. He was a key performer as the Mets returned to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2016.
The left-handed hitter batted .274 with 16 homers and a team-high 102 runs, a career high. He also set career bests with 64 RBIs and 151 games played. His seven triples tied for most in the National League.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Trea Turner’s $300 million, 11-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies was finalized after the All-Star shortstop passed his physical.
Turner gets salaries of $27,272,727 in each of the next 10 seasons and $27,272,730 in 2033. Turner will make a $100,000 annual contribution to Phillies charities.
Turner hit .298 with 21 homers and a career-high 100 RBIs this year in his first full season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He joins a Philadelphia team that made it to the World Series this year before losing to the Houston Astros.
BOSTON (AP) – Right-handed reliever Chris Martin and the Boston Red Sox finalized a $17.5 million, two-year contract,
Martin gets a $4 million signing bonus, of which $1 million is payable this month, $1.5 million next June and $1.5 million in June 2024. He has salaries of $6 million next season and $7.5 million in 2024. The 36-year-old went 4-1 with two saves and a 3.05 ERA for the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers last season.
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice, just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.
The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as ”day to day.” Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Longtime sports executive Tracy Marek will take over as the head of U.S. Figure Skating in January, becoming the first female chief executive in the 101-year history of the national governing body.
Marek takes over for Ramsey Baker, who announced in June that he would step down at the end of the year. Marek has spent 25 years in sports marketing, the past 19 with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
MALELANE, South Africa (AP) – Dean Burmester shot a 7-under 65 to take a one-shot lead in the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
The 33-year-old South African, looking for his third European tour title, had six back-nine birdies at Leopard Creek. Austria’s Lukas Nemecz was second.’
VERMILLION, S.D. (AP) – South Dakota basketball coach Eric Peterson was hospitalized after he sustained multiple injuries in a fall at his home and will not be with the Coyotes when they play UC Irvine on Saturday.
Peterson was outside his house decorating for the holidays Wednesday when he fell, a school spokesman said. His injuries were not considered life threatening.