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Atlanta United

    A suburban Pennsylvania home has become the talk of the town — but not for the reasons you may think. The $750,000 furnished Maple Glen home initially seems to be a typical well-appointed 5 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms residence, but also has a rather unique feature: a sex dungeon in the basement, complete with whips, blindfolds, bondage equipment, and a sex swing. Within days of its listing, the 50 Shades of Grey-inspired property has attracted people from all over the world in hopes to rent — or even buy — the “sexual oasis” — as the realtor describes it — before it’s officially in the hands of some other pleasure-seeking individual. It all started on Thursday when the BDSM-lover’s paradise, located 23 miles north of Philadelphia, was first put up on the market by Coldwell Banker realtor Melissa Leonard. “My seller called me and said that he needed a realtor that was going to be creative and think outside the box because it’s a very different property,” Leonard explained to PEOPLE. The seller, who was renting out his home on Air BnB, then sent Leonard photos of the erotic basement. “I got it and he said, ‘Did you look at it yet?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m driving.’ And he said, ‘Well, I think you should pull over and look at it,'” Leonard recalled. “So I pulled over, saw the pictures, and said, ‘Wow okay, there’s a sexual oasis, pleasure garden going on in your basement,” she added. RELATED: Dakota Johnson’s Thongs Were Superglued to Her Body While Filming Fifty Shades Freed Because the seller was renting his property out on Air BnB, he asked that everything remain intact for his guests — including the sexual fantasy room, which has custom lighting to match the mood. “I think he wanted to go public with [the property] because he wanted the business end of it to be more popular,” Leonard explained. RELATED: Go Inside Fifty Shades Darker‘s Masquerade Ball with Christian and Ana in This Virtual-Reality Exclusive! So she snapped photos of the house and basement, and advertised the property online, writing, “50 Shades of Maple Glen: Suburban Home with a Sexy Twist”. Within hours, it had thousands of views, many of whom reached out with strong interest. But her original post on MLS Listings was eventually changed by the website, with the photos of the basement removed, she said. “This is what makes this house different from any other listing that I’ve had,” she said of the basement. “But [MLS] took down my write up and changed it to… whatever they thought was normal, and then other [real estate] sites followed them.” Reps at MLS did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment. Leonard said the 50 Shades-inspired room has been met with mixed opinions by potential buyers. “Some people call and really like it and others are calling to say, ‘Hey, I want to make sure that stuff can be taken out,” she said. It has even caught the attention of E.L. James, the author of the erotica-romance trilogy 50 Shades. After she was tagged in a tweet about the unique property, James responded back and jokingly asked, “Is it sold fully furnished…? #AskingForAFriend” Is it sold fully furnished...? #AskingForAFriend— E L James (@E_L_James) February 8, 2019 Aside from the kinky basement, Leonard said the home is an attractive property with lots of space, hardwood floors, and a large kitchen and master bedroom. And though it’s being sold as a furnished property, Leonard noted that the sex equipment can be taken out by the buyer. “It has really good features without the basement,” she explained. “And the basement, all it is is furniture that can be removed. You can turn that basement into a typical [one] but right now it has [the furniture] in there.” In the meantime, the owner of the property — who goes by Maison XS — is still renting it out on Air BnB. Those interested in a weeknight getaway can rent the home for $750 per night, while weekends cost $2,000 per night. Besides renting the home for their private use, some people have used it for parties and even a rap music video was filmed there, Leonard said. RELATED VIDEO: ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ Star Jamie Dornan Reveals the One Sex Toy That Didn’t Always Work Out: The Spreader Bar! Since the property went viral, however, the owner has provided another option for a three-hour rental, which Leonard said costs a few hundred dollars. “I’m getting a lot of crazy messages from people who are watching it from all over the world,” she said. “There’s a lot of strong interest.” “It’s great and I’ve never seen anything like this before, it’s exciting,” she added. “It’s not boring, like a typical, every day listing.”
  • Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said he is treating Sunday’s friendly against LAFC as a serious game. It will be the third friendly featuring players competing for first-team minutes. Atlanta United won its first two friendlies 7-1 against Seattle and 6-1 against Tijuana. Neither opponent was at full strength. After making numerous substitutions against Seattle, de Boer made less than three changes against Tijuana. He said that will also likely be the case against LAFC. The starting lineup against Tijuana featured striker Josef Martinez, midfielders Hector Villalba, Ezequiel Barco, Eric Remedi and Jeff Larentowicz, wingbacks Julian Gressel and Brek Shea, centerbacks Michael Parkhurst, Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Pity Martinez came on for Villalba and Alec Kann came on for Guzan at halftime. Notably absent for the second consecutive game was Darlington Nagbe, though de Boer said that there’s a chance he could play against LAFC. De Boer implied that Pity Martinez, should he start, won’t play more than 60 minutes as he improves his conditioning. “Everyone is doing well, so they make my life difficult,” he said. “That’s not problem for me. It’s good to have choices.” Atlanta United has one more friendly scheduled against L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday. It will open its season against Herediano in Costa Rica in its debut in the Champions League. De Boer said he has an idea how he wants to play against Herediano. “There are still options left,” he said of the lineup.
  • Atlanta United has signed defender Florentin Pogba, whose younger brother Paul starred for France in the 2018 World Cup and plays for Manchester United. The reigning MLS Cup champions announced the signing Tuesday. Florentin Pogba has made 25 Europa League appearances with French club Saint-Étienne and most recently played in Turkey's Super Lig with Gençlerbirligi. He adds depth to a center back group that includes captain Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Jeff Larentowicz and Miles Robinson. The 28-year-old central defender was born in Guinea and represents the African national internationally. His twin brother Mathias is a striker for French club Tours. Atlanta United is training in California for the upcoming season. The club will make its debut in the CONCACAF Champions League against Costa Rican side Herediano on Feb. 21. ___ For more AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The six-week trial was a sensation in metro Atlanta and made national headlines: a prominent lawyer accused of murdering his wife in bizarre fashion; he claimed it was an accident. After five days of deliberation--and what seemed to be clear hints otherwise--the jury finds Tex McIver guilty of Felony Murder. As of July 1st, it became illegal to talk on, use, or even touch your cellphone while behind the wheel--easily the biggest change for drivers here since seat belts were made mandatory. This series of reports was designed to help Georgians get ready. 1) How the law works. 2) Will people really put their phones down? 3) How to equip your car. 4) A personal story of distracted driving. 5) How your phone can betray you, if you lie to police. 6) Which cities are/aren't offering grace periods. 7) Exemptions. Fielding nearly a dozen reporters, WSB hosts, and staff analysts, it was all hands on deck for what many called 'the most important midterm of our lifetime,” with our Georgia governor’s race making national headlines. Our coverage included contributions from our Cox sister outlets in Atlanta and Florida. Here is a representative segment, 10:00-10:30 PM, with network updates and commercial breaks deleted. On the 50th anniversary of MLK's assassination, WSB archival audio and original interviews relive one of the most significant weeks in Atlanta's history. October 10, 2018 5:00 PM newscast. Hurricane Michael roars ashore along the Florida panhandle and will soon threaten parts of Georgia. It's 7:00 AM on 'Atlanta's Morning News', as metro residents have been shaken awake by an earthquake! WSB Sports Director Jay Black covers celebrations after Atlanta United wins the MLS Cup, after only two seasons in Atlanta. With the Georgia Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 75 years, and our news and sports staffers on scene in Pasadena, we decided to try a live and locally-produced pre-pregame special. It was a blast. Here is the first segment of our two-hour program. BEST MULTIPLATFORM COVERAGE OF A SINGLE STORY: JAMIE DUPREE 2.0 In mid-2016, WSB’s much respected and well-loved 30-year Washington Correspondent Jamie Dupree lost his voice after falling ill on a family vacation. His voice didn’t come back. It took a year of visits to specialists around the country to diagnose the problem—a rare neurological condition called “tongue protrusion dystonia”. No treatment has worked. While Jamie continued blogging, tweeting, and proving invaluable behind-the-scenes guidance, his absence from the air was obviously a major blow to our news coverage, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign.  A House floor mention of Jamie’s condition by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led to CNN, Politico, and The Washington Post picking up his story. And as it became clear that his voice wasn’t returning, our Cox Media Group tech gurus discovered a potentially-pioneering approach to getting Jamie back on the air. They sent years’ worth of his old radio reports to a software company in Scotland. Using hundreds of clips to isolate letters, syllables, and words, Jamie’s voice was essentially re-created electronically. Text-to-voice software then allows him to type his reports, run them through what we dubbed “Jamie Dupree 2.0”, then send them to us as audio.  The newsroom’s issue was how to handle Jamie’s return. We wanted to celebrate the moment without seeming exploitive, and the initial electronic voice was jarring enough that listeners would certainly realize it wasn’t real. We determined the answer was simply to cover it as a news story, blanketing it across all platforms and being as transparent as possible with our audience. Below are samples of the radio, web, and video coverage dating June 18, 2018.  News-Talk listeners are not known for being bashful with their opinions, and station management had some trepidation about the reaction to the simulated voice. But it was met with genuinely overwhelming affection and encouragement from the audience, and we feel the notably small number of questions or complaints was due partly to our use of every available platform to explain the story.  (And an update: gathering this material, we were startled to remember just how robotic the original electronic voice sounded. As you will hear in other contest entries, by the end of the year, with some tweaking, you’d never know it’s not Jamie speaking—and everybody at WSB continues to hope and pray that someday soon we’ll hear Jamie’s *real* voice on the air again). *** Radio Coverage: *** Video Coverage: *** Online Coverage: My own State of the Union – still looking for voice answers Back on the air with Jamie Dupree 2.0 Without a voice, DC reporter Jamie Dupree's work still resonates across the US *** WSB health reporter Sabrina Cupit. Award entry for Pete Combs in 'Best Reporter' category. Award entry for Veronica Waters in 'Best Reporter' category. Award entry for Michelle Wright in 'Best Reporter' category. Two months after he covered Hurricane Michael's landfall on the Florida Panhandle, WSB's Pete Combs returns to report on residents' holiday season amid the rubble. Aired 12/18/18. *** BEST WEBSITE: WSBRadio.com [Summary]
  • Defenses dominated what was supposed to be a super shootout until Tom Brady led one classic drive to win the New England Patriots their record-tying sixth Super Bowl. Brady threw two perfect passes to Rob Gronkowski to set up rookie Sony Michel's 2-yard score - the only touchdown in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. That put New England up 10-3. A late field goal clinched the win over the Rams 13-3. We'll have LIVE coverage as thousands of people get ready to leave Atlanta following the big game, on Channel 2 Action News This Morning  In a season in which all sorts of offensive records were set, this Super Bowl rewrote the defensive record book. 'Finally got a touchdown and the defense played the best game of the year,' Brady said. [PHOTOS: New England Patriots win Super Bowl LIII] No Super Bowl had gone into the fourth quarter without a touchdown. This one did, tied 3-3 - even though these teams combined to average over 60 points a game. When the Patriots needed a score, Brady, the oldest winning quarterback in a Super Bowl at 41, completed four straight passes, including a pair covering 47 yards to Gronkowski. The second , on which the star tight end beat two defenders, ended at the Los Angeles 2, the only time either team was inside the 20-yard line. Michel ran off left tackle for his sixth postseason touchdown. [PHOTOS: Super Bowl LIII Halftime show] 'He knows to trust in me and throw that ball,' Gronkowski said, 'and I'm going to grab it.' Julian Edelman, the outstanding receiver who missed the 2017 season with a knee injury, was the game's MVP with 10 receptions for 141 yards. With 4:17 left, All-Pro Stephon Gilmore picked off an ill-advised pass by Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who seemed overwhelmed by the big stage all night, at the New England 2. [PHOTOS: Georgia icons take center stage at Super Bowl 53!] Stephen Gostkowski made a 41-yard field goal with 1:12 remaining, completing a 72-yard march that took more than three minutes off the clock and included 26-yard runs by Michel and Rex Burkhead. It was a workmanlike conclusion for the Patriots (14-5), whose losses all came away from New England. They beat the top two offenses in the Chiefs and Rams (15-4) in the postseason, and tied Pittsburgh for most Super Bowl titles. [PHOTOS: Fans arrive for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta] Coach Sean McVay, whose Rams never had been blanked in a first half, let out a long, deep sigh just before halftime, recognizing how badly his team was manhandled, even though it trailed just 3-0. It was the lowest score at halftime since Super Bowl 9, which Pittsburgh led 2-0 over Minnesota. McVay, the youngest Super Bowl head coach at 34, admitted he was outcoached. He had no answers as Gurley, coming off knee issues, managed 35 yards rushing, Goff went 19 for 38 for 229 yards and was sacked four times. Brandin Cooks, a Patriots receiver last season, did have eight receptions for 120 yards. Minute-by-minute updates from Channel 2 Sports Director Zach Klein below: FINAL: New England Patriots defeat L.A. Rams to win Super Bowl LIII, 13-3 For the 3rd time in 5 years, the New England #Patriots are #SuperBowl champions! They outlast the Rams in Atlanta in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, 13-3: https://t.co/eFOQmyd95d #wSB53 #EverythingWeGot pic.twitter.com/lHXuly3FuK — WSB-TV (@wsbtv) February 4, 2019 1:12  4TH QUARTER Pats make field goal, making score 13-3 4:17 4TH QUARTER Jared Goff throws an interception and the Patriots take over with a 10-3 lead. 7:00 4TH QUARTER Sony Michel scores from 2 yards out and the Patriots lead 10-3. Of the 70,081 here at #SBLIII - 60,081 are yelling 'Brady... Brady...... Tommy Time... pic.twitter.com/WzP4MRPMdK — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 4, 2019 END OF 3RD QUARTER The game is tied 3-3.  Fortunate to be asked to be 1 of 16 or so media members from around globe to vote for #SBLlll MVP... Ummmmmmmmm...... who’s name is going down??? pic.twitter.com/IMgRuDWq50 — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 4, 2019 2:11 3RD QUARTER Greg Zuerlein's 53-yard field goal gets the Rams on the board. The game is tied 3-3. 53-yard FG by Rams K Greg Zuerlein ties it up at 3 2:11 left in 3rd Q#SBLIII pic.twitter.com/TNMZcyRt49 — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 4, 2019 7:52 3RD QUARTER The teams continue to trade punts and the score remains 3-0. Rams 0-for-8 on 3rd down conversions - #SBLIII pic.twitter.com/7EwZqkBKum — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 4, 2019 HALFTIME The Patriots lead the Rams 3-0. Patriots 3 Rams 0 - (2 first downs and 57 total yards) Halftime.#SBLIII LA gets ball to start 3rd Q pic.twitter.com/pahDihdRLq — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 4, 2019 2:00 2ND QUARTER The Patriots have the ball around midfield. They still lead 3-0. Atlanta United scored more in 1st half in MLS Cup than the Rams in #SuperBowl pic.twitter.com/AubulJ5sng — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 4, 2019 10:29 2ND QUARTER A 42-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal makes it 3-0 New England. Patriots take 3-0 lead on 42-yd FG from Stephen Gostkowski 10:29 left in 1st H pic.twitter.com/3owyvXZ9aP — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 4, 2019 END OF 1ST QUARTER The Rams and Patriots are scoreless after the first quarter. End of 1st Q.. #SBLIII no points... pic.twitter.com/bZg8IZFmBg — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 4, 2019 START OF GAME Los Angeles wins the toss and defers. The Patriots will get the opening kickoff. LA wins toss... it was tails.... Collect your money— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 3, 2019 6:31 p.m. An awesome moment pregame between Rams head coach Sean McVay and his mother, Cindy. Cindy McVay told me it's tradition to see her son before ever game.. #SBLIII pic.twitter.com/7A98X29TC1 — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 3, 2019 6:24 p.m. Hometown legend Gladys Knight nails the National Anthem! Leggo!!!! #SBLIII pic.twitter.com/fimKHQJwAg — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 3, 2019 6:22 p.m. It appears to be a very heavy Patriots crowd. 100 #Patriots fans for every #Rams fan #SBLIII pic.twitter.com/U9FRXuYU8N — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 3, 2019 6:07 p.m. We're less than 30 minutes away from kickoff and excitement is building. Who you got... #SBLIII I'm going 31-28 #Rams — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 3, 2019 4:58 p.m. Massive crowds are lined up outside trying to get into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. What did they expect... small crowd? https://t.co/KQSZavVzdV — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 3, 2019 3:16 p.m It certainly feels like a very Patriots-heavy crowd. Fans of New England have traveled well.  #SBLlll is a home game for the #Patriots pic.twitter.com/xecFN8zwxZ — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 3, 2019 3:10 p.m. The NFL has announced the roof will be open before the game but closed during the actual game. For those on roof watch... The roof at @MBStadium will be OPEN pregame but closed during the #SuperBowl pic.twitter.com/JLKsWy9Cux — Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 3, 2019
  • Sebastian Lletget headed the ball down and the emotions overtook him as soon as the ball went into the net. In the same stadium where he scored his first international goal before a devastating foot injury he feared might have ended his career, Lletget delivered a much happier highlight in front of family and friends who made the short drive down from his native San Francisco. Lletget scored and assisted in his first game back at Avaya Stadium since the injury, leading the United States over Costa Rica 2-0 in an exhibition Saturday that made Gregg Berhalter just the third coach to win his first two matches with the American national team. 'From the last time I was here, it's always going to be difficult when I step into this building,' Lletget said. 'I'm glad I have another good memory to overcome everything that happened.' The 26-year-old midfielder entered in the second half, scored in the 80th minute off a cross from Jonathan Lewis, then fed Paul Arriola for the second goal in the 88th minute. Both international goals by Lletget were scored less than an hour drive from where he grew up. He put the U.S. ahead of Honduras in the fifth minute of a World Cup qualifier at Avaya on March 24, 2017, then sustained a Lisfranc injury to his left foot 10 minutes later on a slide tackle that earned defender Ever Alvarado a yellow card. Lletget needed surgery and did not return to the field for the LA Galaxy until the following March 4. He did not appear again for the national team until last Nov. 15. 'I didn't know if I was going to play again,' he said. 'I thought it was a sprain and then you go, 'I don't know when you're going to walk.' Six months later I'm just walking again. I overcame a lot.' Berhalter began with a 3-0 win over Panama last weekend and joined Bob Bradley (2007) and Robert Millar (1930) as the only coaches to win their first two U.S. matches. Berhalter was hired in December after the U.S. went more than a year without a full-time coach following the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Bruce Arena quit after the loss at Trinidad in the final qualifier, and Dave Sarachan took over as the interim coach. The 45-year-old Berhalter was a member of the 2002 and '06 World Cup teams and became the first American to coach the national team after playing for it at the World Cup. Sixteen players from Major League Soccer started in a match that drew just 13,656. Because the game was not on a FIFA international date, the entire U.S. roster was from MLS. Berhalter will have his full player pool for the first time for matches against Ecuador on March 21 at Orlando, Florida, and Chile five days later at Houston. After a mostly lackluster first half, Nick Lima hit the post from inside the box in the 54th and Roldan struck a post from outside the box in the 68th as the U.S. started creating chances. 'I think the mentality in the first half was too passive,' Berhalter said. 'We wanted to be much more aggressive. We addressed that at halftime.' Lletget entered in the 63rd minute and broke through after Wil Trapp sent a long pass to Jonathan Lewis, who settled the ball and then sent a cross through the box that Lletget headed down. Trapp was inserted in the starting lineup in place of former captain Michael Bradley, one of two U.S. changes. Arriola took over from Jeremy Ebobisse. The Americans put the game away when Lletget took a kick from goalkeeper Zack Steffen near midfield and then sent a pass to Arriola, who beat goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado to the ball and chipped it in before taking a tumble. 'He came in and changed the game for us,' Trapp said of Lletget. 'Not only scoring the goal, but his ability to maintain possession and find good pockets.' Berhalter used a relatively untried roster, with only Arriola, Trapp and Gyasi Zardes having appeared for the national team at least 10 times in their careers. Costa Rica also had an inexperienced roster in coach Gustavo Matosas' first game on the bench, with only Alvarado, defender Francisco Calvo and midfielder David Guzman having more than six appearances. Los Ticos had seven players make their national team debuts, including five starters: defenders Pablo Arboine and Keysher Fuller; and midfielders Jose Alfaro, Ronaldo Araya and Marvin Loria. A pair of forwards debuted in the second half, Alberth Villalobos in the 56th and Jean Scott in the 58th. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Recent high-profile moves — and near moves — for Major League Soccer players are signaling a shift in how the league is perceived on the world stage. The old stereotype that MLS is a final destination for players on the downside of their careers is fading as more of the league's stars are getting attention from European clubs and beyond — and moving on. In the past few days, two of the league's big names have left for teams abroad: Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron and Toronto forward Sebastian Giovinco. Those deals follow Bayern Munich's signing last year of Vancouver winger Alphonso Davies for a then-record transfer fee that could reach $22 million. Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen is headed to Manchester City in July on a transfer that may rise to $10 million with incentives, and former New York Red Bulls defensive midfielder Tyler Adams made his first start with German club RB Leipzig last week after he was dealt in December. Atlanta United President Darren Eales said Almiron's move to Newcastle United, with a reported $27 million transfer fee, is emblematic of the team's philosophy of bringing in promising young players and showcasing them. 'I think we can say after this transfer window, if you're a young player, if you're a club in MLS trying to attract a player coming up to the prime of his career, you're able to point to Miguel Almiron or Alphonso Davies, to be able to say, 'Look, you can come to this league and actually now get noticed and moved on to top clubs and top leagues in the world,'' Eales said. Almiron, 24, played in 70 matches across all competitions for Atlanta over the past two seasons, scoring 22 goals with 30 assists. While he moved on, Atlanta recently signed another promising young player in 25-year-old midfielder Pity Martinez, the reigning South American Player of the Year. 'The increase in transfer fees for MLS players is an indication of the quality of our players,' said Todd Durbin, MLS executive vice president for player relations and competition. 'Every top league has clubs that sell talented players, and MLS is no different. Importantly, our clubs use the revenue to acquire new players like Pity Martinez, which improves the quality of our teams.' Davies, who is just 18, became part of the Whitecaps' residency program in 2015 and made his MLS debut the next year. He is the youngest player ever to play for the senior Canadian national team. Steffen, 23, was the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and has been starting for the U.S. national team. Crew technical director Pat Onstad echoed Eales when the deal for Steffen was struck in December. 'We continue to believe that players that come to Crew SC have an opportunity to develop and become great players either here in MLS or abroad,' he said. Giovinco, the league's Most Valuable Player in 2015, doesn't quite fit the mold of an emerging player like Almiron, but he was key to Toronto's rise in recent years and one of the team's most popular players. After four seasons with the Reds, Giovinco moved to Saudi Arabian team Al-Hilal with a reported transfer fee between $2 million and $3 million. There are some pitfalls to being a so-called 'seller's league.' MLS must navigate player development and movement while keeping young players that are the future of the league. Atlanta seems to have struck a balance by re-signing last season's MVP, Josef Martinez. Commissioner Don Garber addressed the concerns in his annual state of the league address before the MLS Cup final between Atlanta and the Portland Timbers. 'Our view on this whole area is very, very different than it was two, three, four or five years ago. The product that we're developing has become some of the more important assets, and we need to start finding ways of protecting or finding some ways to get compensated if we can't protect them or can't sign them,' Garber said. Of course, there are still some older players who have been stars in Europe that come stateside, including the Galaxy's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and D.C. United's Wayne Rooney. That model of bringing in established talent from abroad still has value for some teams, but more and more those new arrivals are trending younger. The average age of league newcomers — which doesn't include draft picks or development academy players — is 25.24, just slightly higher than the record low set last year of 24.84 years. Just five years ago, that average was 27.53 years. 'The great thing is that we're in a period of growth and flux in the league. For some players, yes, there will be opportunities to go on to other top clubs,' Eales said. 'For other players we're hoping they commit to the league long term because we're trying to improve as a team, in Champions League and hopefully more MLS Cups to come.' ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The Great Super Bowl Stadium Scam rolls into another city. You're up, Atlanta. The NFL is a master when it comes to separating people from their money, but clearly its most effective technique is dangling the prospect of hosting its grandest event in front of any city that's willing to fork over a billion dollars for a new stadium. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the 10th venue in the last two decades to host a Super Bowl within a few seasons of its opening — most of them constructed with significant public funding. In almost every case, the NFL worked the same con game to push along plans for a new stadium: a not-so-subtle hint that there was a Super Bowl in the offing and perhaps a personal visit from Commissioner Roger Goodell to make the hard sell. Sometimes the Super Bowl was the carrot and the stick was the possibility that the city's franchise could move to a more generous city. 'They're dealing with the NFL, which has a long history of pitting city against city,' said Richard Sheehan, a professor of finance at Notre Dame and author of 'Keeping Score: The Economics of Big-Time Sports.' 'You've got pros on one side, and then you've got — well, I don't want to call them amateurs, but in this process they are amateurs. You've got Goodell going up against the local talent in Minneapolis or Atlanta of whatever city you're talking about. At that level, it's not a fair game.' The NFL's push for new stadiums has been relentless. When venues in Los Angeles and Las Vegas open in 2020, all but six of 32 teams will have homes that have only been around since the mid-1990s. The owners know that a new stadium is really good for business. It jacks up the value of the franchise and has a ripple effect throughout the league. A new stadium in one place is a convenient bargaining chip to push for improved venues in other NFL cities. The Super Bowl is a valuable part of this process, bobbing in front of a city like the worm on the end of a hook. Before you know it, the NFL is reeling that city in — and taxpayers are left to dole out far more money they even knew they had, funds that surely could have been used for less-glamorous projects with benefits to residents who don't own NFL teams. 'No analysis from a dispassionate third party that has ever concluded that the predicted economic benefits of a new stadium are realized,' said Benjamin Flowers, a professor of architecture at Georgia Tech who has studied Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Atlanta Braves' new park. 'If you spent $600 million on infrastructure improvements or education or simply fixing potholes, would it have a greater impact? Most economists agree those things do. The bang for the buck on a stadium built with public dollars is relatively modest.' Despite all evidence that a new stadium never provides any sort of true economic boon to the masses, the NFL and other sports leagues keep finding a way to persuade cities that it's good deal. Metro Atlanta has become the poster child for this phenomenon, opening two new stadiums in the same year at a total cost of more $2 billion — both of which succeeded venues far short of their useful lifetimes. Mercedes-Benz Stadium replaced the 25-year-old Georgia Dome as the home of the NFL Falcons (and also took in a new Major League Soccer expansion franchise, Atlanta United). The Braves, meanwhile, moved from 20-year-old Turner Field near downtown Atlanta to SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County, which worked out an under-the-table deal to give the Major League team some $400 million in taxpayer money. While Falcons and United owner Arthur Blank boasted of fronting most of the up-front costs, the city agreed to chip in $200 million. And, as it turned out, that figure was merely a ruse, since the actual public cost to own, finance and maintain the facility over 30 years will likely be closer to $700 million. Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Falcons, argues that Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been worth the cost because it's already hosted college football's national championship game , will be the site of the college basketball Final Four in 2020 and helped the city land an MLS team , which has set numerous attendance records. And Atlanta seems likely to be one of the prime venues for the 2026 World Cup. A retractable roof allows the stadium to host events far beyond football. 'When you have venues that are as expensive as they are today ... they need to be used,' McKay said. '... They need to be more purposeful than just 10 games.' Mercedes-Benz Stadium has followed in the footsteps of Detroit's Ford Field; State Farm Stadium near Phoenix; NRG Stadium in Houston; Tampa's Raymond James Stadium; AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas; Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis; MetLife Stadium outside New York; Levi's Stadium in the Bay Area; and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. All were awarded a Super Bowl within four years of opening (and several have landed multiple title games). Still to come, the new Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park that will open in 2020 for the Rams and Chargers; it gets the 2022 Super Bowl. And it's almost a sure bet that a $1.8 billion stadium Las Vegas, being built for the Raiders, will host a Super Bowl sometime in the next decade. Supporters of these deals will point to the massive economic impact that a Super Bowl supposedly brings in. Many economists and politicians disagree. The NFL essentially passes along all costs for security and organization to the host city and its partners, a burden forecast to approach $50 million in Atlanta. Also take into account all the business a city loses because conventions and other events are shut out during the weeks leading up to a Super Bowl. So watch your wallets, Charlotte and Washington. Owners in those NFL cities have floated the idea of new stadiums, and it's almost guaranteed that the NFL will enter the mix at some point in the negotiations to offer up a future Super Bowl as an enticement. Don't believe the hype. ___ Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry ___ For more AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • Nick Lima made the most of his opportunity when he was given the chance to make his U.S. national team debut in a new system under new coach Gregg Berhalter. He fared well in a role that asks him to play a combination of right back and as a defensive midfielder and looks to build on that Saturday when the Americans complete their start-of-year camp with a game against Costa Rica at Avaya Stadium. 'The first dream when I was a little kid was playing for the national team and then in the World Cup,' Lima said this week. 'That was the biggest one I set for myself. Everything else is a day-to-day focus, following each goal you set every day. ... Being here is something you dream of and a dream I continue having.' His debut went according to script. After watching as a reserve a year ago when he got his first call-up to the national team, Lima made his first international appearance on Sunday in a 3-0 win over Panama in Glendale, Arizona. Lima started at right back as Berhalter seeks depth behind DeAndre Yedlin, who is not at this camp while playing for Newcastle. That position under Berhalter is different than the one Lima plays for Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes. Lima's club uses him more as a traditional fullback who stays out wide rather than moving more to the inside at times in a midfield role. But Lima knows he must make the adjustment if he wants to keep getting chances on the national team. 'It was different. But I think there were moments in the game that allowed me to be myself and do what I was used to,' he said. 'It's a new system. Gregg wants to play a certain style. It takes more than what we have here, just under four weeks, to get used to it. ... You do what you can to get on the field. To get an opportunity like that, I'm not going to shy away from it. I'm going to go out and give it my best.' Lima fared well, creating a scoring chance early and then delivering his biggest play late in the victory. He made a key tackle near midfield and then quickly attacked. He found Walker Zimmerman with a cross for a goal in the 80th minute and earned was picked as the man of the match. 'I thought Nick was fantastic,' midfielder Corey Baird said. 'Over the last three weeks, he has really grown into that position. At the beginning, maybe he wasn't 100 percent confident there. But you can see his confidence now. He really showed how much he's learned, how much he's grown even though it's just been three weeks.' It's been an impressive rise for Lima, who signed a homegrown contract with the Earthquakes after his college career at California and played 22 games as a rookie in 2017 while being hampered by injuries. He took on a bigger role last season, when he started every MLS match and had a team-high 3,049 minutes. That helped earn him the invite to Berhalter's first camp and a debut with the national team. With many of the team's former stalwarts playing in Europe, Lima and Baird were among the record-tying five players who made their debuts as starters for the U.S. national team in the win over Panama. They joined by Daniel Lovitz, Djordje Mihailovic and Jeremy Ebobisse. It was the most Americans to make their starting debuts for the U.S. since future World Cup players Mike Burns, Brad Friedel, Cobi Jones, Mike Lapper and Joe-Max Moore did it against Canada in 1992. Seeing the newcomers perform well early is exciting to Berhalter, who was hired in December with the task of revitalizing a program still recovering from missing last year's World Cup. 'It's exciting to imagine where this group can go in four years' time,' Berhalter said. 'Our job as a coaching staff is to clearly lay out our plan and be able to train and communicate in a way where the players have a shared vision.' ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • As crews hoisted Super Bowl banners along Atlanta’s streets and plastered the reflective facades of downtown hotels with Bud Light ads, preparations of a different sort were underway half a mile from where the big game will be played. >> Read more trending news  Adult entertainer “Dior” fixed her florescent-red hair inside Magic City. Here, and at several other fabled female strip clubs in Atlanta, they are preparing to welcome throngs of visitors to an entertainment industry unique among cities. “You meet so many people,” said the 24-year-old Stone Mountain native. “The clientele that comes in, the amount of money that’s being thrown, the vibes are amazing.” They have been around 20 years longer than the Georgia Aquarium, but you may not see Magic City or Blue Flame Lounge listed as destinations on any official Super Bowl literature. Even so, many Super Bowl visitors are expected to engage with this Southern city’s proprietary impropriety. Blue Flame alone is expecting upwards of 30,000 guests this week. Atlanta officials are not eager to talk about the strip club’s role in the city’s hospitality industry. The mayor’s office has neither answered emailed questions nor made anyone available to comment for this story. The offices of Atlanta City Council members Cleta Winslow and Dustin Hillis, whose districts include some of the city’s most notable clubs, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city’s tourism chamber, said it does not track the strip club industry’s economic impact. When asked for comment, the agency said: “Major cities across the country have adult entertainment clubs, and Atlanta is no different.” >> Related: Super Bowl 53: Sports Illustrated swimsuit model brings beauty tips to Atlanta  Despite the city’s silence, the strip clubs will surely benefit from city council’s decision to allow all bars in Atlanta to pour 2 hours later during Super Bowl week.  For decades, the clubs have helped make Atlanta a premiere convention destination — a draw that has continued even as business conventions have become less male-dominated. And local rappers have made strip clubs here more visible in recent years by using them to promote their music. Atlanta rap star Killer Mike sees only upside. “As a city, we should make sure we protect the integrity of our juke joints. We’re still a convention city. We have created so many jobs and commerce around our strip clubs.” Strip’s trip Atlanta’s strip club scene, known to hip-hop lovers around the world, had an unexpected start: The hippie rock musical “Hair.” In Atlanta’s “gentlemen’s clubs” in the 60’s, dancers wore pasties and G-strings — the maximum nudity allowed under the law.  When “Hair” was booked for a run in 1970 at the Atlanta Civic Center, the city cited obscenity laws and pointed to its first act, which ends with an infamous nude scene. In 1971, U.S. District Judge Newell Edenfield ruled that nudity and obscenity were not the same thing, so the show went on. Alan Begner, an Atlanta attorney who has been representing strip clubs for decades, said the ruling had an unintended consequence: The city’s adult clubs “went nude right away.” At the time, completely nude dancing wasn’t the standard everywhere, and convention organizers from around the country took note, booking businessmen’s gatherings in Atlanta. When Atlanta officials tried to regulate what they considered a seedy scene, the free market responded. >> Related: Julian Edelman, Pats surprise girl with Super Bowl tickets after she was bullied for playing QB “Atlanta Chamber of Commerce quietly — and the city of Atlanta — supported the industry because two or three of the main conventions wrote and said that if there wasn’t nude dancing” they wouldn’t come, Begner said. In the mid-90s, Begner estimated 40 clubs with female dancers operated throughout metro Atlanta, stretching to suburbs like Cobb County. The clubs served the city during the 1994 Super Bowl, the 1996 Olympics and the 2000 Super Bowl. Now, there are 16 clubs in the city of Atlanta, according to the police department. Unlike Atlanta, some metro cities have decided they can bare no more. Since becoming a city in 2005, Sandy Springs wanted to ban alcohol sales in clubs with full nudity, claiming the combination drew prostitution and fighting. The city’s war recently ended by seeing its three strip clubs close. Chamblee’s only strip club, Follies, is suing the city in federal court claiming the city is trying to shut it down by revoking its liquor license.In September, Brookhaven’s Pink Pony — forced to cut hours — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, meaning it was looking to reorganize. >> Related: Kaepernick’s shadow still looms as NFL biggest game comes to Atlanta While Atlanta hasn’t explicitly set out to close down the clubs, zoning regulations have put so many constraints on where they can do business that it has been impossible to open new ones. Begner said an Atlanta strip club hasn’t opened in a new location since 1984 because no one has been able to find a space that meets all of the requirements. “It’s a no-growth industry,” he said. Forecast: making it rain American strip clubs are usually subject to three kinds of regulations: Whether patrons can touch dancers; full nudity versus toplessness; alcohol licenses versus dry clubs. Not in the city of Atlanta. “Atlanta has survived and made its clubs the most famous in the country because of the nude and alcohol combination, which is rare,” Begner said. More nudity means more money for dancers and the city alike. Clubs are bringing in dancers from other cities for the Super Bowl. Nyla White, house mother for West Midtown’s V-Live owned by Atlanta rapper T.I., said they are bringing in 100 additional dancers for the Super Bowl. >> Related: Super Bowl 53: 33 arrested in sex trafficking sting The visiting dancers will pay their own expenses while they’re in town, but White said it’s still worth the trip: “It only takes a couple of seconds or minutes to get $1,000,” she said. “… It’s expected for them to make bags of money.” Dancers pay $270 a year for their adult entertainment permit, said Atlanta police spokesman Officer Jarius Daugherty, and that money goes to the city. So for just V-Live’s additional dancers, Atlanta will collect $27,000 in fees. The total amount that strip clubs pay the city every year isn’t readily available because, according to city officials, the online database of adult entertainment licenses was lost in the March cyber attack. What is clear is that clubs have contributed to the tax base through liquor taxes, alcohol permits and property taxes for years. But for some, the money isn’t worth it. >> Related: Super Bowl 53: Concerts, music festivals in Atlanta leading up to the big game “If I could wave a magic wand, there would be no strip clubs,” said former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who said she feels the clubs are degrading to women. “…When you degrade women, you degrade everyone in society.” Franklin — who served as Atlanta’s first black female mayor from 2002 to 2010 — hasn’t kept up with the current state of the clubs, but she said that during her administration some clubs were known to law enforcement as hotspots for drugs and prostitution. Though she said she hasn’t been to strip clubs in Atlanta, she has been elsewhere. >> Related: ALERT: Undercover agents cracking down on fake Super Bowl gear “I’m not proud that I went along with going as my entertainment,” Franklin said. ‘Real entertainment’ Atlanta’s rappers have used strip clubs as both muse and megaphone. “Our strip clubs, I would argue, are the fuel for our (Atlanta’s) current artistic dominance all over the world,” said Killer Mike, whose real name is Mike Render. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Some of our leading music comes out of the Blue Flame, Magic City, (the recently-closed) Stilettos, the Office.” He said Atlanta United made it obvious how acceptable the clubs have become when they won the MLS Cup and brought it to Magic City to party. Brittany Carpentero, better known as the Atlanta rapper “Diamond,” said she appreciates the role that dancers have had in popularizing her music, including as a teen member of Crime Mob with their 2004 megahit “Knuck If You Buck.” >> Related: Not a football fan? Here are 8 non-sports things to do in Atlanta Super Bowl weekend How dancers and patrons respond to a song in a strip club shows music executives which tracks are commercially viable. Dancers perform better if they like the song, then patrons feel the energy of the room and start to throw cash, giving executives a clear sign of potential. Carpentero said she is reminded that Atlanta’s music and strip culture is unique when people in the music industry from the West Coast are shocked to hear that she regularly goes on dates at strip clubs. 

News

  • A Texas man was arrested for allegedly slapping a 12-year-old Deer Park boy accused of bullying his stepdaughter in an incident that was caught on surveillance tape, according to news reports. >> Read more trending news  James Olander Peace is facing a felony injury to a child charge, but his wife told KTRK-TV that the court records don’t tell the whole story.  She wanted to remain anonymous but said her daughter was being bullied by two classmates and that her husband was just sticking up for the girl.  They said “that her body was ugly, said that she was a transvestite, started throwing ice cream at her and then they picked up the rocks,' the woman said, according to KTRK. The girl called her parents for a ride, and after Peace picked her up, they saw the two boys, authorities said. 'On the drive home, they happened to see the suspect juvenile walking and that's when the stepdad decided to stop and confront the kid,' Deer Park police Lt. Chris Brown said. The confrontation was caught on a surveillance camera, and Peace was seen shouting and hitting the boy, Brown said. 'He was slapped across the face with an open hand, had red marks and swelling to his cheek and upper jaw,' Brown said. >> Trending: School bus driver on heroin revived with Narcan after crash, police say The news station also reported that court records indicate Peace told the boy not to tell police or he’d beat him up. The boy did tell a teacher about the incident the next day, and Peace was arrested. He’s free on a $15,000 bond.
  • Police continue to investigate the reported attack against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who told authorities he was assaulted in the predawn hours Jan. 29 by a pair of men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him. >> Read more trending news Update 8:50 p.m. EST Feb. 20: Smollett’s Chicago attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, released a statement following the indictment: “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.” Update 7:44 p.m. EST Feb. 20: The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Jussie Smollett has been charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report on Jan.29. The charge is a Class 4 felony that carries a possible prison sentence of 1-3 years, but he could also receive probation. The bond hearing has been set for 1:30pm Thursday according to WLS-TV. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted that detectives will make contact with his attorneys and negotiate a surrender for his arrest. Update 5:30 p.m. EST Feb. 20:  “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett is now considered a suspect and detectives are presenting case to grand jury according to the Chief Communications Officer for Chicago Police Department. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted the news on Wednesday after Smollett’s attorneys met with prosecutors and detectives. Update 4:30 p.m. EST Feb. 20: A police official said lawyers for Jussie Smollett are meeting with prosecutors and police investigators about the reported attack on the “Empire” actor.  Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Associated Press the meeting was taking place Wednesday afternoon. He declined to confirm reports that subpoenas had been issued for Smollett’s phone and bank records. Update 2:20 p.m. EST Feb. 20: Officials with 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment on Wednesday denied reports Smollett was being written out of “Empire” in a statement released to WBBM-TV. “Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the statement said. The comment followed reports that Smollett's role on the show was being slashed amid investigations into the actor's report that he was attacked in Chicago last month. Authorities continue to investigate. Update 9:30 a.m. EST Feb. 20: Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself Monday from the investigation into the reported attack against Smollett, according to WMAQ-TV. In a statement emailed to the station, a spokesperson for Foxx’s office said First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats would instead serve as acting state’s attorney in the case. “Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” the statement said, according to WMAQ-TV. No further information was provided on the reason behind for the recusal. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tuesday that authorities determined a tip they were investigating about a possible sighting of Smollett and the brothers who were previously suspected in the attack were unfounded. “It was not supported by video evidence obtained by detectives,” Guglielmi said. Original report: Authorities are investigating a tip that Smollett was seen in an elevator in his apartment building with two men who have since been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack in downtown Chicago, and were subsequently released without charges, police told The Associated Press. The men, who were identified by attorney Gloria Schmidt as brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, were released without charges Friday after police said new evidence surfaced in the case, according to CNN and police.  >> 'I will only stand for love': 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett performs in California after attack Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told The Associated Press a person who lives in the building or who was visiting someone there reported seeing the Osundairo brothers with Smollett on the night he was attacked. Guglielmi told the AP that as of Tuesday, officers had yet to confirm the account. Smollett told officers he was attacked around 2 a.m. Jan. 29, as he was walking downtown near the Chicago River. He said two men yelled that he was in “MAGA country” -- an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make American Great Again” -- and that they hit him in the face, poured an “unknown substance” on him and wrapped a rope around his neck, The Associated Press reported. >> Jussie Smollett's attorneys say he will not meet with investigators, despite reports Guglielmi told the AP that Smollett still had a rope around his neck when officers first made contact with him after the alleged attack. Last week, police announced that the 'investigation had shifted' following interviews with the brothers and their release from custody without charges. Police have requested another interview with Smollett. They have declined to comment on reports that the attack was a hoax, a claim Smollett’s attorneys have denied. 'Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,' Smollett’s attorneys said in a statement late Saturday. Authorities continue to investigate. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Tuesday about new businesses offering blood transfusions from young donors. >> Read more trending news  Some companies, according to Yahoo News, “charge thousands of dollars to inject older patients with infusions of blood plasma from young donors.” In December, the Huffington Post detailed how one such company claimed these transfusions could reverse aging and provide something “pretty close” to immortality. None of those claims had any proof. “Simply put, we’re concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies,” the FDA said. “Such treatments have no proven clinical benefits for the uses for which these clinics are advertising them and are potentially harmful.”  >> Related: Nearly half of US adults have heart or blood vessel disease The FDA statement, which is credited to Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and FDA director Peter Marks, warns consumers these treatments have not been tested to show they actually help patients. In fact, the FDA says, the transfusions may hurt the recipient. “Plasma administration is not without risks,” the men wrote. “The more common risks are allergic reactions and transfusion-associated circulatory overload.” Less common risks include acute lung injury, infectious disease transmission or circulatory overload, the FDA warned. Plasma is the liquid part of blood, containing blood-clotting proteins. The FDA said there are a few instances where a plasma transfer has proved to be safe and useful. For example, patients whose blood is unable to clot because of illness or medication might receive a plasma transfer. In such a case, the benefits (helps the patient’s blood to clot) outweigh the risks (allergic reactions, etc.). However, even then, the patient still faces the same risks inherent to transfusions. >> Related: Feeling stressed? Thinking of your romantic partner can help lower blood pressure, study says “As a general matter, we will consider taking regulatory and enforcement actions against companies that abuse the trust of patients and endanger their health with uncontrolled manufacturing conditions or by promoting so-called ‘treatments’ that haven’t been proven safe or effective for any use,” the FDA said.
  • Some 3,000 outdoor turkey fryers are under recall over a potential oil leak that could cause a fire. >> Read more trending news  The voluntarily recall involves the Academy Sports + Outdoor Gourmet Turkey Keg fryer, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, described as a stainless steel fryer powered by propane. The spout can leak oil and pose a fire hazard, the CPSC said. The fryer’s item number, 157826, is located on one of the legs. The safety organization is urging owners to return the fryers as soon as possible to any Academy Sports + Outdoor stores for a full refund plus a $50 Academy gift card.  
  • Roosevelt Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital may have a grand history, and it may have disabled patients it helps to regain function. But it’s also just another rural Georgia hospital in danger of closing. The facility established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt has filed an emergency request for a federal judge to rein in the agency that runs Medicare, saying the federal government’s actions put it close to financial ruin. Lawyers for the hospital said the bureaucracy surrounding a disputed $585,000 in bills has cut off ongoing Medicare payments to the institution, payments that are the hospital’s lifeblood. Moreover, the hospital says, the government will likely take years to process the hospital’s appeal. By then, it will be too late. A judge will hear arguments March 5. “I would be heartbroken if it were to close,” said Beth Hadley, a County Commission member for Meriwether County, where the facility is located. She had not heard about the dispute. “Just the work they do is phenomenal,” Hadley said. “Lots of folks use their services. And the number of jobs they provide – good jobs.” Warm Springs is a tiny town located between Columbus and Atlanta. But it is known nationwide for the “Little White House” that FDR built there. The retreat, where he died, is now run as a historic site by the state. Roosevelt, unusual in catching polio as an adult, came to the Warm Springs area initially because he had been told the mineral spring waters there had healing powers. They didn’t heal him, and for the rest of his life he could stand and walk only with braces and support. But he came to feel benefits from swimming in Warm Springs. In 1927, five years before he was elected president, Roosevelt bought the resort property and established a polio treatment facility. That facility evolved and was resold. Now that vaccination has eliminated polio in the United States, the hospital, run by Augusta University Health, rehabilitates about 400 patients a year with a range of problems, including strokes and neurological and orthopedic conditions. The hospital has its own debt, running at a $637,000 loss last year, it said. Managers attribute its struggle partly to rural Georgia’s health care voids. It’s located far from regular hospitals that typically are a source of patient referrals to rehab centers, and it treats a high number of patients who are on Medicaid and Medicare, which don’t pay much. But, its lawyers said, the desperate situation now stems from cases the hospital billed to Medicare. The agency that runs Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, said the hospital billed the CMS for too much care in about 16 cases. The CMS says it shouldn’t have paid the improper bills, and now it wants the money back. It’s started withholding the hospital’s regular Medicare reimbursements until the “debt” is repaid, a process known as “recoupment.” But what actually happened won’t be clear for years. That’s because CMS-hired auditors who identify overpayments are found to be wrong more than half the time when someone appeals. That problem causes a domino effect. The audits are so problematic that appeals have skyrocketed, jamming the waiting list. The law guarantees hospitals an appeal to an impartial administrative law judge within 90 days, but the backlog stretches years. The federal government has investigated the backlog and made the CMS report on its progress, and yet the wait still takes years. In the meantime, hospitals and treatment facilities cut down services or close down while waiting for their appeals. “It’s an especially draconian measure in that if the facility is challenging the audit, they often complete recoupment before they exhaust their appeals,” said Anna Grizzle, a lawyer in Tennessee who represents facilities dealing with the federal process. After the appeals finally make their way through, when a facility gets the CMS auditor overturned, the government writes a check with interest. “That interest payment is frankly little comfort if the provider’s been put out of business,” she said. Warm Springs hired its own auditor, who told it that the CMS auditor was wrong and that the hospital hardly owed anything. The hospital did get two chances at appeals within the CMS before the federal agency began keeping the money. The CMS said it hadn’t made a mistake. That CMS decision is where the recoupment begins. But the appeal at the next level, before an independent administrative law judge, is one where hospitals really have a chance, experts said. Yet recoupment isn’t put on hold for that. The hospital and lawyers who deal with such cases also point out that the CMS contractors have incentive to decide that the agency overpaid. In some cases the contractors are rehired on the basis that they’ve shown they can do a good job recognizing overpayments. In others, they’re paid a commission on whatever they said was overpaid. Jimmy Lewis, whose business Hometown Health is a consultant to rural Georgia hospitals, said he hears from clients about Medicare recoupment clawbacks “on a regular basis.” “Usually there’s not a lot of room for them to have any recovery,” he said. “The way those things work, you basically get a letter, it’s kind of their way or the highway.” And since many of the facilities often just have a few days’ cash flow in the bank, he added, “That can be a killer, there’s no question about it.” Both Augusta University Health, which runs the Warm Springs hospital, and the CMS declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. A lawyer who researched Medicare recoupments for the Emory Law Journal, Maleaka Guice, said regulation surrounding recoupment has to be changed. In bankruptcies Medicare keeps taking money in spite of ongoing appeals even though all other creditors are put on hold, said Guice, who works with Grizzle. But even if the rules are finally changed to put recoupment on hold through all levels of appeals, “they have got to get that backlog down,” Guice said. “It’s a lack of due process to wait three to five years to go in front of a neutral judge,” she said. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.
  • Twitter descended into a furor after discovering an emoji that supposedly showed a rainbow flag with a crossed-out circle over it. >> Read more trending news However, this emoji does not exist. The talk began yesterday when one user tweeted the image, according to Fast Company. On iPhones, the tweet showed the crossed-out circle on the LGBT flag emoji. » New emojis are coming for 2019, include service dogs, inclusivity, sloth This is a bit of text trickery. The crossed-out circle is a special character that covers the previous letter or emoji. If you copy and paste it, the circle covers any previous character, not just the rainbow flag emoji. Jeremy Burge, who lists his title on Twitter as “chief emoji officer” for Emojipedia, set the record straight, saying, “It's literally how that character works in combo with any emoji or character.” Burge pointed out that in situations like this, it can be hard to differentiate which Twitter users have been genuinely fooled and which ones are pretending to be fooled as a joke. See for yourself: The special character is part of Unicode, which is a standard set of characters computers use to handle text. The latest version contains more than 137,000 characters to handle languages from English to Arabic as well as emojis and symbols.