Wednesday, July 28, 2021

February 12, 2021  HOUSTON (AP) — J.J. Watt didn’t just play for the Houston Texans, he was the Houston Texans. The physical embodiment of a young franchise lacking much of identity before the burly Wisconsin kid donned that No. 99 jersey, Watt wowed the football world with his defensive prowess. Now he’s gone, and a team already in the midst of unprecedented upheaval faces a future suddenly even more bleak.

“I have sat down with the McNair family and I have asked them for my release and we have mutually agreed to part ways at this time,” Watt said Friday in a video on social media.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year has spent his entire career with the Texans after being drafted 11th overall in 2011. The star defensive end had one year remaining on a six-year, $100 million contract.

“The connection I have with the people of Houston is special, and I will never take that for granted because I know how rare it is,” Watt said in the video. “I just want you to know that I love you and I appreciate you. I want to thank the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL. Thank you, Houston.”

Houston’s franchise had been around for nine seasons before Watt’s arrival, but had little success with one winning record and never reaching the postseason. Watt’s presence helped change things immediately: Houston went 10-6 to win the AFC South in his rookie year. He led the Texans to their first playoff win that season when his interception for a touchdown put them on top for good in a 31-10 victory over the Bengals.

The Texans finished a franchise-best 12-4 the following year behind Watt’s stellar season, reaching the playoffs again. They won the division six times in his Houston years, and as his resume grew, so did the image of the Texans.

“He’s just everything that we really want to do here... epitomized,” team owner Cal McNair said. “He was a great role model for the fans and teammates and to show people how to do things and do things the right way. So he was wonderful that way.”

Along with his contributions on the field, Watt was lauded for his humanitarian efforts after raising more than $40 million for Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017.

“Simply put, there has been no person in the past decade who has made a greater impact on the Texans organization than J.J. Watt,” team co-founder and senior chair Janice McNair said.

Watt’s departure comes in an offseason in which the Texans have hired coach David Culley and general manager Nick Caserio to replace Bill O’Brien, who held both jobs and was fired after an 0-4 start in 2020. They’re also facing uncertainty at quarterback because standout Deshaun Watson requested a trade.

“Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love,” Cal McNair said. “J.J.’s impact on not only our organization, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise’s history. I told J.J. earlier this week that we will forever consider him a Texan. We take solace in knowing that this is not a goodbye but a ‘see you soon.’”

McNair was asked why he chose to release Watt instead of attempting to trade him and get something in return.

“We felt this did right by J.J.,” Cal McNair said. “Not every decision is easy or easy to understand. We want to do what’s right for our players. We want to focus on bringing championships to Houston.”

Watt was booed by Texans fans on draft night. It didn’t take him long to win over the fan base and become the most beloved Texan. The fearsome pass rusher was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, 2014 and 2015. He led the NFL in sacks and tackles for losses in 2012 (20½ and 39) and 2015 (17½ and 29).

Since his NFL debut in 2011, he leads the league in tackles for losses (172), quarterback hits (281), multi-sack games (26) and sack yards (713 1-2) and ranks second with a franchise-record 101 sacks. He also developed such a knack for using his huge hands to swat down passes at the line that he earned the nickname “J.J. Swatt.”

He is the only player in NFL history with 20 or more sacks and 10 or more passes defended in a single season, doing it in both 2012 and 2014. He’s tied for fifth among defensive lineman in league history with six touchdowns in the regular season, including three TD catches.

The four-time Pro Bowler never missed a game until 2016, when a back injury ended his season. He broke his leg in the fifth game of 2017 and some wondered if he’d be able to return to form after two serious injuries in two years. Watt answered by finishing with 16 sacks in 2018 and earned All-Pro honors for the fifth time.

Watt, who turns 32 next month, played just eight regular-season games in 2019 after tearing a pectoral muscle, but returned to help the Texans in the playoffs. He played every game in 2020 and had five sacks, 52 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown. But he struggled dealing with the losses and said the season was the most difficult of his career as the Texans sank to 4-12 after winning the division the previous two years.

Now Watt’s a free agent, and speculation is he’ll end up in Pittsburgh where his brothers T.J. and Derek Watt play. An offshore betting platform released odds for his next team with the Steelers as favorites.

Cal McNair has already thought about what it will be like seeing his team’s most recognizable player in another uniform.

“It’ll be hard,” he said, “but we’re always proud of J.J. and he’ll always be a Texan.”

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Entertainment

July 22, 2021  LOS ANGELES (AP) — Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday to four counts of rape and seven other sexual assault counts. Sheriff’s deputies brought the 69-year-old convicted rapist into court in a wheelchair. He was wearing a brown jail jumpsuit and face mask. Attorney Mark Werksman entered the plea for the disgraced movie mogul a day after Weinstein was extradited to California from New York, where he was serving a 23-year prison term. Weinstein spoke only to say “thank you” to Judge Sergio Tapia, who wished him good luck as the hearing ended. He now awaits a second trial on a second coast, and the possibility of another lengthy sentence.

July 21, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — “The View” canceled a planned appearance Wednesday by a woman who settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly, after the former Fox News Channel personality sought and received a restraining order against her. O’Reilly accused his former producer, Andrea Mackris, of violating a non-disclosure agreement by talking about her experiences with him nearly two decades ago. ABC’s daytime talk show, in a statement, said that after being notified of the restraining order “we decided to postpone her interview pending further developments. We look forward to welcoming her to ‘The View’ at a later date.” Mackris gave an interview to the Daily Beast earlier this month detailing her experiences with O’Reilly. She had accused him of making repeated lewd telephone calls, while he accused Mackris of an extortion attempt before agreeing to a $9 million settlement in 2004.


July 21, 2021  WASHINGTON (AP) — The Kennedy Center Honors will return in December with a class that includes Motown Records creator Berry Gordy, “Saturday Night Live” mastermind Lorne Michaels and actress-singer Bette Midler. Organizers expect to operate at full capacity after last year’s ceremony was delayed for months and later conducted under COVID-19 restrictions. This 44th class of honorees for lifetime achievement in the creative arts is heavy on musical performers. The honorees also include opera singer Justino Diaz and folk music legend Joni Mitchell. All will be honored on Dec. 5 with a trademark program that includes personalized tributes and performances that are kept secret from the honorees. Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said the current plan is to pack the center’s opera house to full capacity and require all attendees to wear masks. But the plans remain fluid and Rutter said they’re ready to adapt to changing circumstances depending on the country’s COVID-19 situation.


July 22, 2021   LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kanye West knows how to make a splash even with a listening event. West is expected to unveil his 10th studio album, “Donda” during a listening event Thursday night at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. His album was named after his mother, Donda West, who died at the age of 58 following plastic surgery complications in 2007.  The sold-out event will be live-streamed on Apple Music. West, 44, is mostly known as being associated with Chicago, but he was born in Atlanta - a Georgia city where there are no restrictions against large gatherings. The rapper-producer gifted 5,000 tickets to faculty, staff and students from some Atlanta HBCUs including Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown and the Interdenominational Theological Center. The 22-time Grammy winner revealed in a commercial, featuring U.S. track star Sha’Carri Richardson, during the NBA Finals on Tuesday that his highly-anticipated album will be released Friday. The commercial, scored and directed by West, featured “No Child Left Behind,” a song from his forthcoming album.

Business News

July 22, 2021  WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is beginning to make $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities — a tenfold increase in the program paid for by this year’s COVID-19 relief bill. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said her agency on Thursday will begin accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and help struggling cities and towns make long-term investments to drive development for years to come. “This is about real help for communities across the country as they rebuild,” Raimondo said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s about longer-term investments to help communities build themselves back from the bottom up in the ways that work best for them.” The grants will be targeted at supporting local infrastructure, job training programs and developing new industries. Recipients will be selected on the basis of the anticipated return on investment to taxpayers. Raimondo was set to appear at Thursday’s White House press briefing to promote the new program.

July 21, 2021   DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — For months, anyone who wandered onto a dealer lot to look for a used car could be forgiven for doing a double-take — and then wandering right off the lot. Prices had rocketed more than 40% from their levels just before the viral pandemic struck, to an average of nearly $25,000. The supply of vehicles had shrunk. And any hope of negotiating on price? Good luck with that. But now, a sliver of hope has emerged. The seemingly endless streak of skyrocketing used-vehicle prices appears to be coming to a close. Not that anyone should expect bargains. Though average wholesale prices that dealers pay are gradually dropping, they’ll likely remain near record levels. So will the retail prices for consumers. Supply remains tight. And while demand has eased a bit, a steady flow of buyers could keep prices unusually high for a couple of years more. “It’s a short-term correction,” suggested Paul Sugars, sales manager for pre-owned vehicles at Jack Demmer Lincoln in Dearborn, Michigan. “Buyers are sitting on the fence, waiting to see what happens.”

July 22, 2021  SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric plans to bury 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of its power lines in an effort to prevent its fraying grid from sparking wildfires when electrical equipment collides with millions of trees and other vegetation across drought-stricken California. The daunting project announced Wednesday aims to bury about 10% of PG&E’s distribution and transmission lines at a projected cost of $15 billion to as much as $30 billion, based on how much the process currently costs. The utility believes it will find ways to keep the final bill at the lower end of those estimates. Most of the costs will likely be shouldered by PG&E customers, whose electricity rates are already among the highest in the U.S. PG&E stepped up its safety commitment just days after informing regulators a 70-foot (23-meter) pine tree that toppled on one of its power lines ignited a major fire in Butte County, the same rural area about 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco where another fire sparked by its equipment in 2018 killed more than 80 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

Fashion News

“Faced With Restrictions, These Are the Designers Who Took Us Somewhere New”—Vogue Editors Weigh In on the Most Innovative Presentations of Spring 2021