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An Arsenal Star Criticized China’s Detention Camps. Fury Soon Followed.



BEIJING — The German soccer star Mesut Özil is the latest international sports celebrity to be at the center of controversy over China’s hard-line policies, igniting fury among Chinese internet users by denouncing the country’s mass detention of Muslims.

Mr. Özil, who is of Turkish heritage and plays for Arsenal, an English Premier League club, took on one of China’s most sensitive policies with his comments on Friday about Uighurs, a largely Muslim Turkic minority in Xinjiang, in northwestern China.

The Chinese authorities have held as many as a million Uighurs, and possibly more, in indoctrination camps meant to drastically weaken their commitment to Islam. The internments have drawn international anger and led to legislation in the United States Congress that could impose sanctions on Chinese officials over the detentions, which China says are intended to deter terrorism.

“They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men. The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men,” read identical posts on Mr. Özil’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, according to a translation by The Guardian.

“But Muslims are silent,” they read. “Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?”

While some foreign celebrities and companies who have offended Chinese sensitivities in recent years seem to have done so unwittingly, there seems little doubt that Mr. Özil’s remarks were carefully chosen. His reference to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, a name for the region used by advocates of self-rule for Uighurs, made matters worse for many Chinese.

Arsenal quickly tried to distance itself from Mr. Özil’s posts, but the club’s response did not stave off a wave of online anger in China.

“The content posted was entirely Özil’s personal view,” Arsenal said in a statement early Saturday on Weibo, a social media platform that, like Twitter, allows users to share comments. “As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of keeping out of politics.”

“I argue that we Chinese people should maintain a scornful attitude toward these kinds of people and their games,” he said.


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Las Vegas Doubles Down on Sports, Live and Broadcast




At the Park MGM, the recently updated Moneyline Sports Bar & Book looks more like a neighborhood sports bar — albeit with bigger and more numerous screens — with large booths where groups can gather and a “tailgate menu” offering cheeseburgers and nachos. The teller area, where the betting takes place, is in the entry foyer.

Up the street, The Linq Hotel + Experience has updated its sports book to include “Fan Caves,” living room-style areas available for rent with 98-inch televisions guests can control, video games and nightclub-style bottle service. The resort is also building a studio for the sports network ESPN overlooking the Strip, to be completed next spring. (Its sibling resort, Caesars Palace, now has a Bleacher Report Studio producing content for the popular sports app and steaming service.)

“We wanted to create an actual living room experience where fans can be social together,” said Chris Holdren, the chief marketing officer for Caesars Entertainment, which runs The Linq, Caesars Palace and several other resorts. “In traditional sports books, you were lined up and if you wanted to high-five after your team scored, it meant going down the aisle.”

Making casinos more game-day friendly may expand their appeal. Research by the American Gaming Association found that sports bettors are generally younger, more affluent, more ethnically diverse and better educated than the general population of the United States.

In terms of live sports, Las Vegas has the W.N.B.A. Aces, pro soccer’s Lights, and Triple-A baseball’s Aviators, as well as pro hockey. Major League Baseball exhibition games have been held in Las Vegas nearly every year since 1991 and will take place again in February and March 2020 in the newly constructed Las Vegas Ballpark. Still, only 4 percent of visitors attended a sporting event in 2018, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Operators here expect that to change given the popularity of football, America’s favorite spectator sport, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. The Raiders organization said that it has already sold 99 percent of the licenses to buy season tickets. Leading up to the team’s debut, Las Vegas will hold the NFL Draft, April 23 to 25.


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In 18 Minutes, Zion Williamson Shows Flashes of the Future




NEW ORLEANS — Zion Williamson was apprehensive in the first half of his first regular-season game with the Pelicans. He deferred to teammates. He passed out of traps. He did not use his 6-foot-6, 284-pound frame to demolish smaller defenders or propel the crowd to its feet with his dunks. Instead, he seemed determined to blend into the existing framework of his team.

It was Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center, and no one could blame Williamson for being tentative against the San Antonio Spurs. About three months removed from knee surgery, he had only recently resumed practicing. And now he was making his much-anticipated N.B.A. debut as the latest star on the league’s global stage.

At halftime, Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry intervened.

“I told him I wanted him to be a little more aggressive and to enjoy the moment,” Gentry recalled.

Williamson heeded that message in the fourth quarter, when he engineered a ridiculous stretch of basketball pyrotechnics. He pulled up in transition from the 3-point line. He plowed to the basket for a put-back layup. He went to the free-throw line as “M.V.P.” chants filled the arena. He scored on seven straight possessions, cluttering the box score with 17 points in just 3 minutes 8 seconds.

“He started to be who everyone thinks he is,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said.

Williamson, the top overall pick in last year’s draft, finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in a modest 18 minutes of playing time. But he had to watch the latter stages of the Spurs’ 121-117 victory from the bench, the victim of a minutes restriction as he works his way into playing shape. The crowd expressed its displeasure. Gentry said he had no choice.

“The medical people said that was it,” Gentry said. “He wasn’t happy about it. I don’t think anybody would be happy about it if you were playing at the level he was playing.”

Outrageous expectations have shadowed Williamson since he was in high school, and the remarkable thing is that he keeps meeting them — and even exceeding them. In four preseason games for New Orleans, he averaged 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 71.4 percent from the field.

But he had surgery in October to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, which sidelined him for the first half of the season while raising questions about his long-term durability. Williamson, whose body has the general dimensions of a vending machine, is a science experiment in high-tops: How can someone so large be so explosive? Is his brand of spring-loaded athleticism sustainable over the grind of an 82-game schedule?

New Orleans is a football city, but Williamson’s presence has captivated sports fans here. He offers fresh hope for a long-suffering franchise — if only he can stay healthy. That has become the refrain for fans like Larry Blake, 64, a sound editor who has been a season-ticket holder since the team’s inception in 2002.

Williamson was also asked whether he was excited to get back to a sense of normalcy, now that he had gotten through his big debut. Before he could answer — “Man,” Williamson said — Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who had accompanied him to his postgame news conference, piped up.

“It’s not going to be normal for him,” Holiday said. “The way he played is something he can do every day.”

That is the hope, anyway.


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Eli Manning Won Two Super Bowls. Is That Enough for Canton?




If you want to pick a fight, bring up Eli Manning and the Hall of Fame.

With Manning, the Giants quarterback, set to hold a news conference on Friday to confirm that he will retire, the debate about his accomplishments that has simmered for years now will have closure.

A quick summation of Manning’s career produces a fairly strong Hall of Fame case.

After being selected with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft, Manning went on to start the seventh-most games for a quarterback in N.F.L. history. He currently ranks seventh in career passing yards, seventh in touchdowns and is tied for 11th in wins. And most important, his trophy case includes two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Awards, both of which came against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

For many of Manning’s supporters, those Super Bowl wins alone provide a be-all, end-all argument. Only 12 quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era have won multiple championships, so Manning punched his card the second Ahmad Bradshaw awkwardly tipped over into the end zone for a go-ahead score in Super Bowl XLVI.

But if Hall of Fame voters considered two Super Bowl wins to be an automatic benchmark, they would not have spent the last few decades ignoring Jim Plunkett, a quarterback with fairly modest regular season statistics who won two Super Bowls for the Raiders and was the M.V.P. of Super Bowl XV.

Plunkett’s failure even to be named a Hall of Fame finalist makes clear that Manning’s career requires a deeper examination than just looking at a picture of his Super Bowl rings.

There are 29 quarterbacks currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but many of them played a version of the position that would be largely unrecognizable to current fans. If one compares Manning to the 16 post-merger quarterbacks currently in the Hall, however, his numbers initially appear strong.

In that group, Manning would rank third in passing yards, third in touchdowns, seventh in passer rating and sixth in adjusted net yards per attempt, a metric that accounts for the negative value of an interception. He was more prolific over the course of his career than quarterbacks like Kurt Warner, Bob Griese and Roger Staubach, and more efficient than quarterbacks like Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw and Ken Stabler.

On the other hand, Manning also would be fourth in interceptions, and his career record of 117-117 would make him one of only two players in the group — along with Namath — who does not have a winning record in the regular season.

The case for Manning gets far more complicated when one considers his contemporaries. The last 30 years have seen passing statistics grow inflated thanks to a series of rules changes, and a change in emphasis by coaching staffs. That makes it almost impossible to compare quarterbacks from today’s game to those from even the not-all-that-distant past.

Among all quarterbacks who have started at least 100 games since 1990, Manning’s numbers no longer jump out. He is not a top-five player in any major statistic, and his passer rating of 84.1 ranks 27th. His adjusted net yards per attempt ranks 29th. He is 20th in the percentage of his throws that resulted in touchdowns, and 30 other quarterbacks have had a fewer percentage of their throws result in interceptions. Even Manning’s Super Bowl wins do not come off as particularly unique, as his immediate peers — Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Brady — all have multiple championships, too.

For all his gaudy passing numbers, Eli Manning has never had a season of leading the N.F.L. in any major passing statistic — except for interceptions — and he has never been named to an All-Pro team.

And in perhaps the most damning statistic, Manning’s 117 losses are the second-most in N.F.L. history to Vinny Testaverde’s 123 — a record Manning most likely would have broken if not for his having been replaced by Daniel Jones for all but four games this season.

That Manning did not stand out in his era could be a huge issue, as there is a fairly established frequency of Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Since 1970, there have typically been six or seven active Hall of Famers at any given time. The number shrank to as few as four in 1981 and 1982, and grew as high as eight from 1991 to 1994, but in general we have an idea of how many quarterbacks of any given era typically rewarded with induction.

Could Manning live up to a standard of being one of the six to eight best quarterbacks of his era? Not likely.

His career overlapped with two current Hall of Famers (Brett Favre and Kurt Warner) and with a group of five quarterbacks who almost assuredly will be elected once they are eligible (Peyton Manning, Brady, Drew Brees, Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers).

Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, despite being only 31, already has a Super Bowl ring and seems capable of collecting more, and there is a case to be made that both Philip Rivers of the San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons have been better quarterbacks than Manning even if they have not had similar postseason success.

That results in at least 10 of Manning’s contemporaries potentially being positioned ahead of him for a spot in Canton even before one accounts for a younger group of playmakers (Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Lamar Jackson) who eventually could play their way into the conversation.

Unless voters are willing to break with precedent, some tough decisions will have to be made among this crowded group of passers, and that standard could affect more than just Manning.

In the end, Manning appears to fall below what will most likely be the standard for induction once he becomes eligible. He was a good-not-great player with a .500 record whose case is almost entirely based on a pair of postseason runs powered largely by his team’s defense. To elect him would be to ignore the numbers and simply declare the two most brilliant days of his career to be enough to earn a gold jacket.

A similar argument worked wonders for Namath in 1985, but it has been routinely ignored for Plunkett. How it will work out for Manning is anyone’s guess. But when Giants fans bristle at that idea they should remember this: No matter what happens, Manning played David to Brady’s Goliath — twice — and that is a legacy that does not require a bust in Canton to be unforgettable.


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