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No resolution thus far in mediation proceedings between St. Louis, Kroenke

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No resolution thus far in mediation proceedings between St. Louis, Kroenke

ST. LOUIS – The city’s long-standing legal battle against Rams owner Enos Stan Kroenke and the NFL moved outside of a courtroom.

Attorneys for the parties involved met Tuesday with a mediator at the Clayton law offices of a lead NFL attorney in the case to try to broker a settlement in the 4½-year-old lawsuit, ahead of the scheduled Jan. 10, 2022 trial.

There was no comment from any of those involved in the mediation.

“I don’t expect anything to get settled today, even though we have mediation,” said Dr. Patrick Rishe, a sports economist and director of the Sports Business Program at Washington University in St. Louis.

Rishe has kept a close eye on the Rams relocation drama since it began.

St. Louis City, County, and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority have accused the NFL of fraud and unjust enrichment for allegedly encouraging St. Louis to spend millions on a new stadium plan to keep the Rams from moving while plotting all along to move the team back to Los Angeles.

A new poll of 700 registered voters in St. Louis City and County from the political firm Show Me Victories suggests pressure may be mounting for Kroenke and the NFL to settle.

Approximately 71% of those polled say they are following the case.

“Working in politics, that number is very high,” said Braxton Payne, Show Me Victories. “We rarely see anything above 50% when it comes to specific issues among registered voters and we saw that this was at 71%.”

Almost half, 49%, favor an NFL expansion team for St. Louis as part of a settlement;
56% would like to see a St. Louis jury decide the matter.

Kroenke and his fellow owners are reportedly feuding over who will cover any settlement or jury award. They risk their messages to each other about Rams relocation becoming public during a trial.

“I have to think there are many multiple ‘smoking guns’ in some of the emails,” Rishe said. “Do the owners and the NFL want to risk some of that becoming public? I don’t think … you talk about the unjust enrichment, the increase in the franchise value. If we would have built the stadium here, we would have seen an increase in franchise value here. Again (there’s) the long-term loss of tax revenue. All of these things when you add them up and then on top of that, punitive damages, all of that together you are now reaching into the hundreds of millions, if not the billions of dollars (for a settlement).”

Rishe expects the NFL to expand with more teams within the next decade.

“I think it’s smart for the lawyers on the St. Louis side to not only negotiate cash now but also if we get a franchise in the future that we have an under-market expansion fee and we get more than the average loan from the NFL to help build a new stadium,” Rishe said.

There was no comment on any progress made here today. A spokesman for St. Louis County Counselor, Beth Orwick, told FOX 2 a court order bans the parties involved from speaking publicly about the case.

The next court hearing is set for Dec. 3.

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Authorities: Hate against Taiwanese led to church attack

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Authorities: Hate against Taiwanese led to church attack

By AMY TAXIN, KEN RITTER and DEEPA BHARATH

LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (AP) — A gunman in a deadly attack at a Southern California church was a Chinese immigrant motivated by hate for Taiwanese people, authorities said.

The shooter killed Dr. John Cheng, 52, and wounded five others during a lunch held by Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, authorities said at a Monday news conference.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said the motive of the shooting was a grievance between the shooter, identified as a Chinese immigrant and U.S. citizen, and the Taiwanese community. China claims Taiwan is a part of its national territory and has not ruled out force to bring the island under its rule.

The suspect was identified as David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas. He has been booked on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder and is being held on $1 million bail.

Chou is expected to appear in state court Tuesday and it was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. A federal hate crimes investigation is also ongoing.

Chou’s family was among many that were apparently forcibly removed from China to Taiwan sometime after 1948, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said. Chou’s hatred toward the island, documented in hand-written notes that authorities found, seems like it began when he felt he wasn’t treated well while living there.

Barnes, the sheriff, said Chou drove from Las Vegas to the Orange County church, where he was not a regular attendee, secured the doors with chains, super glue and nails and started shooting. The gunman had placed four Molotov cocktail-like devices inside the church.

Barnes said Cheng, a sports medicine doctor who is survived by a wife and two children, heroically charged at the shooter and attempted to disarm him, allowing others to intervene. Cheng probably saved the lives “of upwards of dozens of people,” the sheriff said.

A pastor hit the gunman on the head with a chair and parishioners hog-tied him with electrical cords. But Cheng was hit by gunfire.

“I will tell you that evil was in that church,” Spitzer said, who added that Chou had “an absolute bias” against Taiwan and its people.

A former neighbor, meanwhile, says Chou’s life unraveled after he was nearly beaten to death several years ago.

Chou had been a pleasant man who used to own the Las Vegas apartment building where he lived, Balmore Orellana told The Associated Press.

But Orellana said Chou received a head injury and serious body injuries in an attack by a tenant and he sold the property. The neighbor said that last summer Chou fired a gun inside his apartment. No one was hurt but he was evicted.

Orellana says Chou’s mental ability seemed to diminish in recent months, he was angry that the government didn’t provide comfort in his retirement, and he may have been homeless.

At the California church, Jerry Chen had just stepped into the kitchen of the church’s fellowship hall around 1:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard the gunshots.

Chen, 72, a longtime member of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, peeked around the corner and saw others screaming, running and ducking under tables.

“I knew someone was shooting,” he said. “I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 911. ”

Samuel Nganga, a member of Geneva and a caretaker for the church, said he was starting to clean up in the kitchen when he heard the shots. He and others crawled out on their hands and knees to escape.

Four of the five people wounded suffered critical gunshot injuries. Authorities on Monday said two of the wounded were in good condition, two were in stable condition and the status of the fifth patient was undetermined.

Chen said a group of about 40 congregants had gathered in the fellowship hall for a luncheon after a morning service to welcome their former Pastor Billy Chang, a beloved and respected community member who had served the church for 20 years. Chang moved back to Taiwan two years ago. This was his first time back stateside, Chen said.

Everyone had just finished lunch and were taking photos with Chang when Chen went into the kitchen, he said. That’s when he heard the gunshots. People told him afterward that the gunman had stopped to reload when Chang hit him on the head with the chair.

“This is just so sad,” Chen said. “I never, ever thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community.”

The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York in a racist rampage where the white gunman allegedly targeted a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80% of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65.

Those wounded by gunshots included four Asian men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old Asian woman, the sheriff’s department said.

It was not immediately clear whether all of the victims were of Taiwanese descent.

Tensions between China and Taiwan are at the highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets toward the self-governing island. China has not ruled out force to reunify with Taiwan, which split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949.

Taiwan’s chief representative in the U.S., Bi-khim Hsiao, offered condolences to the families on Twitter.

“I join the families of the victims and Taiwanese American communities in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded survivors,” Hsiao wrote on Sunday.

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This story has been corrected to show that Pastor Billy Chang has not retired.

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Ritter reported from Las Vegas. Bharath reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists Stefanie Dazio and John Antczak in Los Angeles also contributed to this story. News Researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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Through one month of play, MLB attendance approaching 2019 numbers; Orioles drawing bigger crowds

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Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s record-breaking kick honored as NFL’s Best Moment of the Year

After two seasons of limited fan attendance, Major League Baseball crowds are approaching 2019 numbers through one month — and the Orioles are actually exceeding pre-pandemic figures.

No fans were admitted for 2020 regular-season games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for part of 2021, stadiums restricted capacity. This year marks the first time since 2019 that the season began without capacity limitations, and MLB attendance is 96.3% of what it was during the first month of 2019.

Meanwhile, attendance in Baltimore has increased. Through the first 14 games of the 2019 season, Oriole Park at Camden Yards averaged an announced crowd of 16,301. Through the same number of contests this year, official attendance has been 18,581 per game, a 14% increase.

The Orioles’ attendance is still lower than the MLB average, though, which was 26,859 in 2019 and 25,865 this season through one month of play.

There has been much ado about attendance, or lack thereof, at Oakland Athletics games this season, as the A’s are averaging fewer than 8,000 fans per game. When Baltimore visited Oakland in April, three of the four games — excluding the A’s home opener — hosted fewer than 4,500 fans.

But Oakland’s woes have not been indicative of a larger trend, as 13 MLB teams are averaging more than 30,000 a game.

Attendance at many major sporting events has approached pre-pandemic numbers. The NBA has seen only a slight dip from 2019-20 averages, the recent Kentucky Derby neared 2019 attendance numbers and college football attendance in 2021 was just 4% short of 2019 averages, per CBS Sports data.

In 2021, the NFL actually had a 1% jump in attendance compared to 2019, according to Sports Business Journal; the Ravens’ 2021 attendance essentially matched its 2019 averages.

The Orioles might see a boost in attendance soon. Top prospects Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Adley Rutschman are all in Triple-A, awaiting a call up to the big leagues, which could attract more fans to the ballpark.

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South Florida’s playoff watch-party showdown: Florida Panthers vs. Miami Heat

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South Florida’s playoff watch-party showdown: Florida Panthers vs. Miami Heat

Rats! What’s a Miami Heat-loving Florida Panthers fan — and vice versa — to do this week?

As the NBA’s Heat and the NHL’s Panthers were set to begin the next round in their respective playoffs, the NHL on Monday revealed a Panthers schedule nearly identical to the one previously announced for the Heat.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Raymond Gil, a Heat fan from Deerfield Beach, who usually watches games at his local Duffy’s Sports Grill. “Now I have to share TVs with Panthers’ fans? It’s cool, but the flow and the vibe, totally different.”

Gil may find his seat already taken, as the Panthers start earlier.

The Panthers schedule in the best-of-seven playoffs includes games at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, then 1:30 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday in Tampa Bay. Should they be required, there would be games May 25, 27 and 29 at times TBD.

The Heat play at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at FTX Arena in Miami, then 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Monday in Boston. If that series extends beyond four games, they also would be held May 25, 27 and 29 at times TBD.

After weeks of anticipation over these playoffs, the realization that a fan of both teams may not be able to watch them live and uninterrupted for many games is a buzzkill.

Mauricio Cardenal, a Panthers season ticket holder since the team’s magical 1995-96 Stanley Cup run made tossing rubber rats on the ice a thing, has held season tickets to the Miami Heat just as long. Cardenal said he would have tried to attend games for both teams.

“It just sucks. The last couple of weeks of the [Heat and Panthers] playoffs, it’s been every other night, and it’s given the fan base down here a great opportunity. They could shift from one sport to the other, from one team to the other, and stay excited,” said Cardenal, 49, of Coral Gables. “Now it’s, ‘Alright, I have to decide, one or the other.’”

Adding to the frustration, this is the first time the Heat and Panthers have advanced this far in the playoffs at the same time, each also is a top seed and each is facing a bitter rival — Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics, Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning.

Chrissy Parente, Florida Panthers corporate communications manager, said the schedule is a product of a “complex puzzle” of broadcast rights and building commitments among the eight teams left in the NHL playoffs.

“Obviously for Florida fans, this is unfortunate,” Parente said. “The Panthers management and NHL have been in touch regarding scheduling.”

Cardenal isn’t sure what his plan is yet for home games at the Heat’s FTX Arena and the Panthers’ FLA Live Arena, saying he may alternate between the two teams. Watching road games at home, he plans to follow the Panthers game until the end, then switch to the Heat.

“The Comeback Cats, they’re fun to watch, they’re never out of it,” he said, then admitted, “I’m more nervous about the Panthers than I am the Heat.”

The schedule has created a unique situation for South Florida bars and restaurants trying to set up watch parties that cater to each fan base with a limited number of TVs.

The Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park is an official Florida Panthers bar. It has a taproom at FLA Live Arena and hosts road-game watch parties that have been standing-room-only popular as the team has navigated the season into the playoffs.

The brewery and Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale are hosting a free, family friendly Panthers watch party at Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale for the team’s game at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, said marketing director John Linn.

But the brewery also has a business partnership with the Miami Heat, Linn said.

“Isn’t it crazy? Somebody needs to move one of these series,” he said, laughing.

A typical Panthers watch party at the Funky Buddha includes four large projector screens, sound on, in addition to the smaller TVs over the bar. Linn said “some” will be tuned to the Heat game while the Panthers are on.

A signature of the watch parties are free servings of the brewery’s Panthers-themed Gloves Off IPA after a win to anyone in Panthers’ gear. Linn would not commit to another free beer for someone wearing a Jimmy Butler shirt under an Aaron Ekblad jersey if both teams win.

“I can’t endorse a double dip, but it would be a great day in the taproom,” he said.

Staff writer Ben Crandell can be reached at [email protected].

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