Thursday Sports in Brief

National Sports

NFL

NEW YORK (AP)In moves reminiscent of the environment for the 2020 season, the NFL has updated its protocols and advocated for booster shots in reaction to an increase in COVID-19 cases around the league.

As part of its protocol changes, it is requiring masks regardless of vaccination status, and remote or outdoor meetings. It also is stopping in-person meals, adding restrictions on activities outside the facility, prohibiting outside visitors during team travel, and limiting the amount of people in team weight rooms.

”Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19,” the league said in a statement. ”All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our No. 1 goal for the entire NFL community.”

The updated protocols will be enforced through Week 15 games, but are likely to continue or even be strengthened after that point.

CLEVELAND (AP) – Case Keenum’s expected start for the Browns took an unexpected turn.

Cleveland’s veteran backup quarterback tested positive Thursday for COVID-19, possibly leaving the team without its top two quarterbacks for Saturday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

Keenum was slotted to make his second start this season for Baker Mayfield, who tested positive Wednesday as the virus continues to wreak havoc with the Browns and several other NFL teams.

Third-string quarterback Nick Mullens is now positioned to start against the Raiders, but nothing is set. Mullens was signed to Cleveland’s practice squad on Sept. 1 and activated from the practice squad Thursday as a COVID-19 replacement.

Keenum’s positive result came after he practiced on Thursday.

NBA

NEW YORK (AP) – The NBA and its players have agreed to enhanced health and safety protocols through the holiday season in response to rising virus numbers, with additional testing coming and a return to mask usage in many situations.

The upgraded mask rules will be in place ”until agreed otherwise by the NBA and Players Association,” according to a memo shared with teams Thursday night and obtained by The Associated Press. Masks need to be worn again in almost all circumstances during team activities – including travel, when on the bench during games, in meetings and locker room, weight room and training room settings.

The exceptions: during on-court basketball activities for players, and for head coaches during games.

Testing will be increased from Dec. 26 through Jan. 8, the league said.

– By Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Peach Bowl will go on without Kenneth Walker and Kenny Pickett.

Walker, an All-America running back at Michigan State, and Pickett, a record-setting quarterback for Pittsburgh, both announced Thursday they are skipping the bowl game to focus on the NFL draft.

Walker and Pickett both revealed their respective decisions in social media posts on Thursday, leaving the 11th-ranked Spartans (10-2) and 13th-ranked Panthers (11-2) without their biggest stars for the Dec. 30 game in Atlanta.

AUTO RACING

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Mercedes ended the dispute over the Formula One season finale on Thursday when it withdrew its appeal of the controversial finish that cost Lewis Hamilton a record eighth championship.

Mercedes had filed a pair of protests following Sunday’s race, in which a late crash at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix helped Max Verstappen beat Hamilton for the title. Both protests were dismissed and Mercedes then asked for reconsideration at the International Court of Appeal, a process that could have dragged into next year.

Mercedes was protesting the use of the safety car following a crash with five laps remaining. Hamilton had a nearly 12-second lead with Verstappen in second when the crash brought out the yellow flag.

SOCCER

LONDON (AP) – The Premier League schedule was upended Thursday as coronavirus outbreaks at clubs forced the postponement of five weekend matches, taking the total amount of games wiped out over the past week to nine.

The league said its intention was ”to continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible” although some managers have called for a brief suspension.

Adding to the postponement of the Manchester United-Brighton game on Saturday, the league said the following matches were also off: Southampton-Brentford, Watford-Crystal Palace, West Ham-Norwich (all Saturday) and Everton-Leicester (Sunday).

CHICAGO (AP) – Midfielder Lindsey Horan was voted the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Female Player of the Year for the first time.

The 27-year-old led the U.S. in minutes with 1,707 over 22 matches in 2021, tying for fourth with six goals and tying for second with five assists. She played both defensive and attacking midfielder.

Horan had two goals in 14 games this year for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Portland Thorns. She won U.S. Young Female Player of the Year in 2013 and became the third to win both awards, joining Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz.

OBITUARY

CLEVELAND (AP) – The Cleveland Guardians said minor league catcher Andres Melendez died Thursday in Miami. He was 20.

The team said Melendez died suddenly. There was no immediate word on the cause of his death.

The Venezuela native began his career with Milwaukee’s organization in 2018. He spent two seasons between the Brewers’ Dominican Summer and Arizona League teams before he was acquired in a trade by Cleveland in 2019.

Melendez spent the 2021 season at Low-A Lynchburg, appearing in 73 games.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Len Hauss, a five-time Pro Bowl center for Washington who started every game over the last 13 seasons of his 14-year NFL career, has died. He was 79.

His daughter, Lana Hauss Snyder, said in a telephone interview Thursday that Hauss died Wednesday at Wayne Memorial Hospital in Jesup, Georgia, after an extended illness.

Washington was the only professional football team Hauss played for during a durable career that spanned from 1964 to 1977 and included 196 total regular-season games, with 194 starts. He also appeared in another seven postseason games, all starts.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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