Tennis Star Ash Barty Opts Out of U.S. Open Over COVID ... #1 Female Player

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Ash Barty -- the #1 ranked female tennis player in the world -- is opting out of the U.S. Open ... saying it's just too risky to play.

The 24-year-old Australian says she loves the annual tournament -- set to begin in New York on August 31 -- but she doesn't feel comfortable bringing her team into a danger zone while the pandemic is still raging in the U.S.

"My team and I have decided that we won't be travelling to the ... Western & Southern Open and the U.S. Open this year," Barty said.

"I love both events so this was a difficult decision, but there are still significant risks involved due to COVID-19 and I don't feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position."

She added, "I wish the USTA all the best for the tournaments and I look forward to being back in the U.S. next year."

Australia has closed its international borders -- which would make overseas travel difficult for Barty anyway.

If she did make the trip, she would be required to spend 2 weeks in quarantine, per Australia's pandemic travel policy.

Dr. Anthony Fauci Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. ... For Horrible 1st Pitch!

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Dr. Anthony Fauci's finally talking about that DISASTER of a first pitch at the Washington Nationals game ... and doc's got EXCUSES!

Sore arm. Poor training. Misjudging the distance.

COME ON FAUCI!!!

The Doc opened up about the debacle on the ESPN Daily podcast -- admitting he hadn't thrown a baseball in decades and wasn't properly prepared for the honor.

"I had been practicing for 2 days before at a walk down that I thought was 60 feet, but it was really probably 45 feet," Fauci said.

WORTH A TRY
Courtesy of MLB

"I was throwing and throwing and throwing and I got it right but only it was at 45 feet!"

"And I kind of hurt my arm because I haven’t thrown a baseball literally in decades."

Fauci continued ... "So, as I was getting ready to go out on the mound, my arm was killing me -- but I said hell, I could suck it up and just throw it the way I had been practicing."

But, when Fauci got to the mound, the doc says he panicked -- "I said, 'Oh my god, Sean Doolittle looked like he was 200 feet away!"

Fauci says he changed his throwing motion to try and overcompensate for the distance and soreness ... but it backfired.

"I wound up and threw it like a bullet, only it just went way off to the left."

"So it was my bad, all the way."

Yeah, baseball's not gonna work out for Fauci. Don't quit your day job!

NFL's Dana Stubblefield To Fight Rape Conviction COVID Robbed Me of Fair Trial

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Dana Stubblefield says he plans to fight his rape conviction -- claiming the COVID pandemic ruined his shot at a fair trial and now he plans to appeal.

As we previously reported, the ex-NFL player was found guilty of rape by force, oral copulation by force and false imprisonment stemming from a 2015 incident at his Northern California home.

Officials say Stubblefield had lured the victim to his home under the guise of interviewing for a babysitting job -- and then sexually assaulted her.

The victim -- 31-years-old at the time -- has developmental disabilities, according to prosecutors.

Stubblefield has denied the allegations for years -- and despite the conviction, his attorney Allen Sawyer tells TMZ Sports the former football star will continue to fight.

"He's going to fight to clear his name. He's innocent. He believes in the judicial system," Sawyer says.

"He's not happy where this is right now but he's going to keep fighting."

Currently, Stubblefield is facing 15 years to life in prison. He's due back in court for sentencing later this year.

But, Stubblefield's lawyer tells us the trial was "littered with errors" -- and he expects to win his appeal.

First, Sawyer says the COVID pandemic led to MONTHS of delays -- causing the trial to last nearly 9 months from start to finish.

"Once they halted the jury trial for months, we asked for a mistrial because how the jury supposed to remember evidence from a witness from 7, 8 months ago when they've had a 2 month break and other breaks?"

Sawyer explains ... "They started the trial and then the pandemic hit. We already had a jury, the government got to present a lot of evidence and then they halted the trial for 2 months because of the pandemic."

When the trial restarted, Sawyer says jurors were anxious and distracted by possible COVID exposures which led to more delays.

"Then they started letting witnesses testify remotely, we weren't allowed to sit next to our client. We continually asked for a mistrial because it wasn't a fair environment because of the COVID circumstances."

But, Stubblefield's requests for a mistrial were denied and he was ultimately convicted.

Sawyer says there were several other MAJOR flaws with the way the trial was conducted -- but he'll spell out those gripes in his appeal papers.

In the meantime, Stubblefield remains behind bars and continues to argue that the sexual encounter was consensual.

Virginia Tech Star Caleb Farley 'Opts Out' of College Football ... Will Train for NFL

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Welp, here's a first ...

A big time college football star is opting out of the 2020 NCAA football season over COVID concerns -- and will prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft instead.

The player is Virginia Tech star Caleb Farley -- one of the best cornerbacks in the country. He made 1st team All-ACC in 2019 after recording 20 tackles, 4 pics and a TD.

But, Farley says he will NOT return to VT for his junior year because quite frankly, he doesn't feel safe with the pandemic still in full swing.

"I am opting out due to uncertain health conditions and regulations and all of the other opt outs going on in football right now," Farley said Wednesday in a video statement.

"I tragically lost my mother Robin January 2, 2018 to an illness and I cannot afford to lose another parent or loved one."

The good news for Farley ... some experts already have him slated as a 1st round pick in 2021.

The bad news for Virginia Tech ... it's a big loss for that defense.

In fact, 247Sports ranked Farley as the 16th best player in college football going into the 2021 season.

"Though the competitor in me badly wants to play this season, I cannot ignore what's going on in my heart and I must make the decision that brings me the most peace," Farley added.

"Thank you, Virginia Tech -- my coaches, teammates and anyone else who has supported me in the past."

The question now ... with so much uncertainty surrounding college football -- will other big stars follow suit?!

Stay tuned ...

Denver Nuggets Speak W/ MPJ Over COVID Conspiracy ... 'Population Control'

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HERE'S WHAT I THINK...

1:58 PM PT -- Nuggets head coach Michael Malone says the team talked to MPJ about his comments ... but made it clear he's "not the thought police."

"I'm not going to tell any of our players what they can and can't say," Malone said. "All I would say is just be sensitive to the current situation in our country and throughout the world in regards to coronavirus."

Malone says MPJ met with Tim Connelly, Denver's president of basketball ops, about his comments ... but denies it became a distraction with the team.

"If somebody has a strong belief on something, they have the platform and freedom to use that," Malone added. "We will just try to educate guys so that they understand the impact of what they may be saying."

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. believes COVID was secretly created for global "population control" ... and warns things are about to get much, much worse.

It was all part of a bizarre Snapchat Q&A session on Tuesday -- when the 2018 1st-round NBA Draft pick decided to go full conspiracy theorist when asked about the pandemic.

"Personally, I think that the coronavirus is being used obviously for a bigger agenda," 22-year-old Porter said from his room in the NBA Bubble in Orlando.

"It’s being used for population control in just terms of being able to control the masses of people."

More than 661,000 people have reportedly died from COVID around the world since the pandemic began -- with more than 16.7 MILLION cases.

Porter thinks it's all part of some diabolical plot for global control.

"Because of this virus, the whole world is being controlled. You’re required to wear masks, and who knows what’ll happen when this vaccine comes out. You might have to have the vaccine in order to travel. That’d be crazy."

And yeah, that's when Porter pivoted into some anti-vaxxer talk ...

"I've never been vaccinated in my life. I've never had any shots or anything like that. So, it could get crazy."

FYI, it seems impossible for Porter not to have been vaccinated at some point in his life since basketball players at Missouri (where he played college ball) were required to comply with the 2-dose MMR Immunization Policy -- which essentially requires proof of vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella.

Still, Porter continued his rant ...

"It's definitely an agenda behind everything that's going on right now and all you can do is sit back and watch what's going on."

"Don't get too emotionally involved," Porter warned ... "but yeah, I mean it is a serious thing -- it's a real thing but yes it's being overblown."

Sidenote -- please be safe out there.

Braves' Nick Markakis Opts Back In To MLB Season ... 'Felt Like I Needed To Be Out There'

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Nick Markakis is back ... the Atlanta Braves OF says he made a "rash" decision initially opting out of the MLB season -- and now, he says he's ready to rejoin his teammates.

"Sometimes in life you make rash decisions without thinking things through," the 36-year-old told reporters Wednesday. "At the time, I thought it was the right decision."

Nick chose to sit out just before the start of Braves' summer camp earlier this month ... saying a conversation with teammate Freddie Freeman cemented his feelings on the matter

At the time, Freddie was sick as hell with COVID-19 ... and Nick wanted no part of that battle -- so he left the squad.

But, Markakis said Wednesday he's back for good ... and while he admitted he's still not sure it's the RIGHT decision -- he felt like he just had to do it for his teammates.

"Sitting at home," Markakis said, "watching these guys compete the last couple days and all the risks that they're taking going out there, you know, I just in a way, deep down, that pit in my stomach, I felt like I needed to be out there."

It's a huge boost for the Braves ... Atlanta needed some outfield help after their agreement with Yasiel Puig fell through due to a positive coronavirus case earlier this month.

Markakis has spent the last 5 seasons with the Braves ... and batted .285 last season with 9 home runs. He's expected to join Atlanta's lineup in the next few days.

Buccaneers' Cameron Brate TB12's Workout Pal Recovers from COVID ... Big Questions Loom

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FOR THE GREATER GOOD
@cambamgram / Instagram

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate says he's back to 100% after being diagnosed with COVID-19 -- but there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding his illness.

Brate just issued a statement saying he's recovered from the virus -- but he has not said when he was diagnosed or when he was cleared.

In other words, Brate is being secretive about when he actually had the virus ... which raises a lot of questions considering he spent a lot of time working out with Tom Brady in the past few months.

Brate was reportedly working out with Brady in the Tampa Bay Area beginning in June and going through July -- despite the NFLPA advising against players training together during the pandemic.

Remember, Brady famously posted that Franklin Roosevelt quote in the light of criticism which said, "Only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

Did Brate contract COVID during the workouts? Was any other player exposed? We just don't know.

Nevertheless, 29-year-old Brate is now urging others to take the pandemic seriously ... and even dropped a new PSA on Wednesday.

"The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on our population and it continues to impact nearly every aspect of our lives," Brate says.

He also urges people to donate plasma to help with COVID research.

"If you were diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive with antibodies and fully recovered and are symptom-free for at least two weeks, please consider visiting a local donor center."

"We’re all in this together and your donation can make a difference in someone’s life.”

As for Tom Brady, he seems to be fine -- he reported to the Bucs facility for testing last week and continues to be tested daily along with every other Bucs player.

NBA Zero New COVID-19 Positives ... 344 Players Tested

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More great news from the NBA ... a 2nd straight week with ZERO positive COVID-19 tests from players and staffers inside the bubble.

While MLB, NFL, and other sports are scrambling to figure out how to proceed safely -- the NBA seems to have it down.

The league claims that 344 players were tested and NONE of the tests came back positive for coronavirus.

There have been some issues with the bubble -- some players have violated the rules to get things like delivery food and strip club chicken wings -- but so far, the league has been able to avoid an outbreak.

There are strict protocols in place for breaches -- mandatory quarantine periods -- and judging by the numbers, it's effective.

The NBA season is set to officially tip-off Thursday night and this is the kind of news that players, staff, executives and fans were hoping to hear!!

Chainsmokers Concert Organizers Say it was COVID Safe ... Claim Video Misleading

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The Chainsmokers' drive-in concert in the Hamptons sure looked dangerous, COVID-wise, but sources connected to the charity event say don't believe your eyes ... and insist coronavirus guidelines were in place.

These sources tell TMZ ... videos circulating of the Saturday night concert are misleading, and don't show how the area in front of the stage was fenced off and only allowed 10 people per section.

PACKED IN
@eyeoftheo / Instagram

Mind you, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo saw the videos from the weekend show, and was livid. He called out the concert for "egregious social distancing violations," and the New York State Department of Health has launched an investigation.

However, the sources connected to the concert say the section right in front of the stage was for family and friends and people who worked the event -- and didn't have car spaces to watch the show.

Obviously, they should still maintain social distancing, but we're told the general public was NOT allowed to rush the stage and pack that area.

On top of that, our sources say organizers of the Southampton even obtained all the proper permits from the city for a public gathering and adhered to all the COVID-19 regulations ... including temperature checks at the door, providing masks, and having security monitor physical distancing among the various parties in the drive-in crowd.

We're also told reports of the concert being shut down for not following the public health rules are untrue. Our sources say the permit only allowed the event to go until 10:30 PM ... so it ended at 10:25 PM.

As we reported ... health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says he's "at a loss as to how the Town of Southampton could have issued a permit for such an event, how they believed it was legal and not an obvious public health threat."

'RHONJ' Ramping Up to Shoot Amid COVID ... Teresa Taking Center Stage

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The 'Real Housewives of New Jersey' are falling in line with the other 'Housewives' -- they're getting back to work, safely, and Teresa Giudice is reassuming her role as top dog ... TMZ has learned.

Sources close to the production tell us the Jersey gals are going to begin shooting for their 11th season very soon, much like 'Real Housewives' in Atlanta and Orange County have recently started to do as well. Bravo halted filming on all the shows in March due to the pandemic.

The Jersey cast and crew will go through the same safety precautions as the other shows -- everyone on set gets daily temp checks, folks are encouraged to socially distance and a lot of scenes will be outdoors.

We've heard the crews will be required to wear masks, but it doesn't sound like the cast members will be forced to do so.

As for season 11 storylines? We're told Teresa will be heavily featured again ... especially her co-parenting with her estranged husband, Joe, who's in Italy after losing an appeal in his deportation case last year. Season 10 covered some of the fallout from that, including the family trip to visit him.

We're told Joe and Teresa's frequent FaceTime calls and phone chats will likely be documented -- they're on good terms right now, and there's no hint of a looming divorce, even though they're technically split up. No word on whether Joe's getting his own camera crew in his motherland, but it seems unlikely when you consider the cost.

FaceTime's way cheaper than a 2 or 3 person camera crew!

Washington Nationals Refuse to Travel to Miami for 3-Game Series ... COVID Concerns

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10:51 AM PT -- Turns out ... MLB might not even need the Nats-Marlins series to complete its season -- according to New York Post baseball insider Joel Sherman.

League officials, per Sherman, are kicking around the idea of having total winning percentage determine playoff seeding ... which would allow some teams to play a full 60-game slate, while others could play just 50.

MLB has previously used the winning percentage model back in 1981 ... when a strike-shortened season forced teams to play a different number of games.

The Washington Nationals players have VOTED against traveling to Miami to play a 3-game series with the Marlins in the wake of a COVID outbreak ... and ya gotta wonder, is this a wrap for MLB?!

The Nats were scheduled to play a 3-game series with the Marlins beginning Friday and ending on Sunday.

But, after 15 Miami Marlins players and 2 coaches tested positive for coronavirus, the Washington players decided it was just too damn risky.

The players took a vote -- and the majority of the team felt strongly AGAINST playing.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal says the MLB now has to figure out what to do ... but if the players don't feel safe, how can you force them to play?

As for the Marlins, they are still in Philadelphia -- where they wrapped up a series against the Phillies.

They will be cleared to return to Florida following a series of negative tests -- but who knows how long that could take?!

The 2020 MLB season seems to be in danger -- though Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday night he thinks the league will be okay ... and insists they have protocols in place for a reason.

Stay tuned ...

Miami Marlins 4 More Players Test Positive ... 15 Total

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12:25 PM PT -- 7/28 -- MLB just announced they have cancelled the Marlins games through Sunday so the players and coaches can focus on getting healthy.

7/28 -- More bad news for the Miami Marlins ... 4 more players have tested positive for COVID, bringing the total number of positive tests for players to 15.

7:19 AM PT -- As we previously reported, 2 coaches had also tested positive -- so the total number of positive tests within the organization is at 17.

Multiple games have been postponed as a result of the outbreak -- including Tuesday night's Yankees vs. Phillies game.

The Marlins played the Phillies over the weekend -- and Phillies players are currently being quarantined and tested before they play another game.

9:34 AM PT -- Eleven, not 12, players are COVID-19 positive on the Marlins ... MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal clarified Monday.

9:08 AM PT -- MLB now says it's working with the Players Association, the Marlins, the Orioles, the Phillies and Club medical staffs to find out the scope of the exposure.

We're assuming they're also trying to figure out what the hell to do next.

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter also issued a statement saying the team is trying to "properly grasp the totality of this situation."

"The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these unchartered waters."

The team added, "We have conducted another round of testing for our players and staff, and our team will all remain in Philadelphia pending the results of those tests, which we expect later today."

7:43 AM PT -- The Yankees vs. Phillies game scheduled for Monday in Philly has been canceled, says The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.

The Phillies played the Marlins on Sunday in Philadelphia and there are concerns players, coaches and other staff could have contracted it.

12 Miami Marlins players -- and 2 coaches -- have tested positive for coronavirus ... and now their Monday night game has been canceled.

The Marlins were scheduled to leave Philadelphia after their series with the Phillies -- and travel back to Florida to play the Baltimore Orioles in their home opener on Monday, but now that's off according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

The Marlins will remain in Philly -- the flight back off -- and the team will continue to quarantine and undergo testing there until they are cleared to leave.

We already knew 4 players had tested positive over the weekend -- but the team and Major League Baseball were all hoping it wouldn't spread.

But now, seems everyone's worst fears were realized -- the team is dealing with a medical crisis and MLB is scrambling to figure out what to do next.

The 2020 season only began on Thursday -- and already one team has a major COVID issue. Not a great start.

The Marlins played the Phillies in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon -- so now, ya gotta wonder if that team is dealing with an epidemic as well!

Besides the players and coaches, MLB must be concerned about umpires, reporters, staffers and others who were at the stadium interacting with the team.

ALSO, THE YANKEES ARE SUPPOSED TO PLAY THE PHILLIES IN PHILLY ON MONDAY.

The big question -- will the Yankees actually play the game? Will they bail? This is all developing.

Basically, this is a doomsday scenario for MLB.

MLB ratings have been way up since the season kicked off on Thursday — in fact, the opening day games on ESPN scored the network its biggest numbers for an MLB regular-season game since 2011.

Originally Published -- 6:24 AM PT

Gary Busey Flippin' & Floppin' on Quarantine ... I Love It & I Hate It!!!

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TIPS FROM GARY
TMZ.com

Gary Busey can't make up his mind about quarantine life -- one minute he says it's the best thing to happen to him ... and the next, he's calling it prison.

We got GB Monday at the Malibu News Stand, where he chopped it up with us about how he's holding up during the pandemic ... and more specifically, how he's dealing with being locked down indoors (for the most part, anyway).

First, Gary here starts out by telling us quarantine shouldn't be viewed as a bad thing -- he says it's giving people QT with their loved ones, and he even has a new way to describe F.R.E.E.D.O.M. ... as only Gary could.

No more than a minute or so after his glowing review of quarantine, he seems to change his tune severely when we ask him about his kids and if they're going back to school in the fall.

Watch ... he goes after Gov. Gavin Newsom, and then starts talking freedom again, in the more traditional sense. He's nothing, if not unique. Don't go changing, Gare!

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