COVID has just ruined yet another sports team's season ... Michigan men's ice hockey officials said Friday the squad will have to pull out of the NCAA Tournament over positive tests.
The school made the announcement in a lengthy statement ... explaining the team had multiple positive results within U-M's Tier I testing group.
"I'm devastated for these players," Wolverines head coach Mel Pearson said. "These student-athletes have done a wonderful job all year of making sacrifices to get to this point of the year."
"It's unfortunate. I don't completely understand the final decision but I have to respect it."
Michigan -- the tournament's #2 seed -- was set to face two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth on Friday ... but the game has now been ruled a no contest.
As a result, Minnesota Duluth will now automatically advance to the quarterfinals ... where it'll play the winner of North Dakota vs. American International.
"I want to wish all the teams still playing good health, good luck and stay safe," Pearson said, before adding, "We'll be back. Michigan Hockey will be back. Stronger and ready to go next year."
Bring on the picks and leave the masks ... the NFL says if teams' draft war rooms next month feature fully vaccinated individuals, it will lax COVID policies and not require face coverings.
The league made the announcement to its clubs in a one-page memo Thursday ... explaining teams can have quasi-normal draft day procedures if all participating members can prove they've taken the COVID vaccine.
NFL officials say draft-night changes for vaccinated teams' war rooms include no mask requirement and flexible physical and social distancing rules.
The league also says it will allow both eating and drinking as well.
But, there will be some precautions for the draft weekend -- which is set to kick off April 29 -- even for those vaccinated teams.
The league says fully vaccinated rooms are to be capped off at 10 staffers.
If not vaccinated, teams will have to adhere to strict COVID policies ... with masks, social distancing and a cap of 20 per room.
The draft -- which was held virtually in 2020 due to the pandemic -- is scheduled to occur in downtown Cleveland this year.
GAME ON, FLAME ON ... right?!
The Olympic torch relay has resumed in Japan on Thursday -- 1 year after that stupid pandemic put the 2020 Games on ice.
Remember, the flame was initially lit in Greece back in March 2020 -- but when COVID exploded, event organizers put a halt to the traditional torch relay and decided to keep the flame burning in a secure location in Japan.
But, now that the world is slowly opening back up (mostly thanks to the vaccine), the Olympic fire is going back on on the road.
Event organizers hosted a small, intimate torch ceremony in Fukushima -- where a handful of musicians and dancers performed in front of roughly 150 people who were all following social-distancing protocols.
That's when Japanese soccer star Azusa Iwashimizu -- who starred for Japan in the 2011 Women's World Cup -- took the torch and began the new relay, which will end in Tokyo in July.
Officials say 10,000 people will participate in the 4-month torch relay-- followed by an opening ceremony event at Japan National Stadium.
Let's hope everyone uses hand-sanitizer before and after passing the torch!
Magic got his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday at the USC vaccination site. The NBA Hall of Famer says he's been looking forward to inoculation for a while, because he wants some peace of mind after a year of stringent handwashing and mask-wearing.
Danny's getting the first dose of the Moderna vaccine ... and he's got a message for the tough guys on the block who think they don't need a shot. Danny says anyone on the fence should take the plunge for their loved ones.
Arsenio's going one and done with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine ... and he says his mother is the driving force behind his vaccination. The comedian says he doesn't know what's in the shot, but as his mom points out, he doesn't know what's in her cooking either. Advantage science.
Magic, Danny and Arsenio are the latest celebs to give the vaccines a ringing endorsement ... remember, Arnold Schwarzenegger got his shot on camera too, and even dropped a famous movie quote to mark the occasion.
The Easter Bunny's making a comeback of sorts, and this time it doesn't just mean Spring is sprung, it's a sign Americans are getting ready to celebrate Easter like it's 2019 ... for better or worse.
The bellwether in this case -- bunny costume sales, and they're super hot with Easter less than 2 weeks away. A rep at HalloweenCostumes.com, the world's largest costume retailer, tells TMZ ... its Easter category sales are up over 75% year-to-year.
For instance, this time last year -- as the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns were beginning -- the retailer had sold just 49 bunny costumes. This year, with COVID cases flat or dropping in most places, they've sold 171 ... and expect to sell out before Easter, which is April 4.
The easy explanation for biz boomin' is two-fold -- the decrease in cases and the increase in availability of COVID-19 vaccines. Not to mention the loosening of restrictions in many states, and total lack of them in others.
What's more ... the CDC also recently said vaccinated people can visit indoors with unvaccinated people of a single household without masks or social distancing if unvaccinated people are in the low-risk category. Great news for grandma and grandpa heading into the holiday!
Important to note, though, that if no one in your family's been vaccinated, the CDC is still recommending keeping celebrations within your household, and gathering virtually with others. And, of course, outdoor gatherings, if weather permits, are most ideal.
The good news for those of you ordering those hot-selling Easter bunny costumes is ... built-in face-covering! Yes, the CDC and President Biden are still urging you to wear those.
Marco Rubio says Miami Beach looks "unsafe" with all the spring breakers, but he still wants folks to come and have a good time ... as long as it can be done without violence.
We got the U.S. Senator at Reagan National Airport in D.C. Monday and asked him about the state of emergency for Miami Beach, which is struggling to maintain law, order and COVID safety ... amid a flood of partygoers.
Marco admits the videos of spring breakers flooding the streets and breaking the 8 PM curfew is not a good look and unsafe. As he put it, "It's never a good look when you're throwing chairs and tearing the place up" -- but he's also blaming that chaos on just a few bad apples.
Despite thousands of arrests, including 2 men busted for allegedly drugging and raping a woman who later died in a hotel ... Marco says people should still spend their spring break dollars in Miami, if they can do so without getting out of control.
As for a possible super-spreader event -- which Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has said is a concern -- Sen. Rubio's brushing that off, and told us why he thinks most of the South Beach revelers won't get sick.
Not sure about his logic, but what's clear is the Senator is trying to walk the line between health and economic concerns in his constituency.
Sooo ... Bienvenido a Miami???
3:18 PM PT -- The Bobcats have a Heisman winner rooting them on from the stands ... with none other than Joe Burrow present for the big game!!
Of course, the Cincinnati Bengals QB is a native of The Plains, Ohio ... and his dad, Jim, was the offensive coordinator for the Bobcats football team for more than a decade.
The Burrows look decked out in Bobcat gear in the stands ... with Chad Lindskog of the Evansville Courier-Press snapping a shot of the QB and his dad catching the game.
Maybe that'll give the Green and White the edge over Creighton??
Court Street turned into a rager for the ages after Ohio upset Virginia in the NCAA tourney ... and now, officials are trying like hell to keep fans from becoming COVID super spreaders if the Bobcats win again on Monday.
Folks in Athens flooded the streets, climbed lamp posts and crowd surfed after Jason Preston and the #13 Bobbies took down the defending champs in the first round on Saturday.
It was an insane sight to see ... and one that had to make Dr. Fauci's skin crawl.
The Athens City-County health department is hoping fans stand up and cheer responsibly if Ohio handles #5 Creighton and reaches the Sweet 16 on Monday ... laying down a list of safety tips to prevent spreading the coronavirus.
Some pointers include staying inside and watching from home, wearing masks and social distancing outside, putting up yard signs to show support, or hosting Zoom watch parties.
In other words, the health dept. is begging fans to do anything but cram together in the streets and breathe on each other without a mask on.
Will it work?? Probably not -- after all, OU used to be the #1 party school in the country -- but ya gotta admire the attempt to keep everyone safe.
Originally published -- 1:04 PM PT
Krispy Kreme is offering a sweet reward for folks who get vaccinated against COVID-19 ... free donuts!!!
The nationwide donut chain says folks with valid COVID vaccination cards can snag a free Original Glazed donut just by showing proof of the shots ... and the offer's good every day for the rest of the year.
Think about it, a free donut every time you step into a Krispy Kreme with your vaccination card ... this may be a more effective way to get people vaccinated than celebrity endorsements.
Krispy Kreme says the freebies are good at all of their 369 shops across 41 states with no purchase necessary ... ya just gotta visit the store in person or drive-thru.
Oh, and the vaccines are free too. Sweet!!!
Kent Taylor, the man who founded the wildly successful Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain, has taken his own life after experiencing severe, post-COVID side effects.
Taylor suffered from tinnitus -- ringing in the ears -- which his family says greatly intensified in the last days of his life and ultimately became unbearable. At its worst, tinnitus can sound like a jet engine roaring inside the ears.
The family said, "Kent battled and fought hard," but ultimately the suffering became too great.
Kent was a master businessman, who founded Texas Roadhouse back in 1993. He came up with the idea on a cocktail napkin and brought it to life with the first restaurant located in Louisville, Kentucky. The plan took hold, and eventually, there were 537 Texas Roadhouses in 49 states, with 10 international locations.
Kent got national attention last Spring when he earmarked his entire salary to help support frontline workers during the pandemic.
He suffered from tinnitus, but it apparently flared up in a big way after he contracted COVID. There's data indicating tinnitus is exacerbated by coronavirus.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said, "He was a maverick entrepreneur who embodied the values of never giving up and putting others first."
Kent was 65.
Try telling a bunch of Spring breakers they have to pack it in by 8 PM ... it doesn't work.
Huge crowds of partygoers filled the streets after curfew ... oblivious to or contemptuous of Mayor Dan Gelber, who tried putting the brakes on celebrations out of fear it would become a breeding ground for COVID.
The video tells the story ... it could be March 2019 from all appearances, because the crowd was wild.
The logic behind the curfew -- people drink as the evening wears on and getting increasingly unsafe.
The good news and the bad. First, the bad ... COVID cases in Florida have now topped 2 million. The good news ... despite the warnings that opening Florida too early would result in disaster, it hasn't materialized so far, and in fact, the state is doing better than states like New York and California which have much more rigid COVID restrictions.
Cops arrested at least a dozen partygoers for violating curfew and other misdeeds.
The curfew is in effect for 72 hours, but if Saturday night is any barometer of what's to come ... good luck.
Joey Bada$$ has a bone to pick with Mickey and co. -- he claims the Mouse House wouldn't let his autistic cousin into the park without a mask ... to which he calls foul.
The rapper posted a video Saturday which shows three Disney World employees on camera who appear to have been dispatched to deal with a situation. As Joey narrates and gets the names and positions of each worker ... it becomes clearer what's going on.
He says he came to DW with his family -- about 30 people or so -- to celebrate his daughter's birthday. Thing is, one of his relatives is an autistic child ... whom Joey says doesn't understand the concept of mask-wearing and finds it suffocating.
Joey adds, "These guys have completely ruined my family’s trip. We came out here 30+ for my daughter's bday and they turned my lil cousin away, can’t even enjoy this experience anymore" ... going on to tag a number of Disney handles on social media.
We checked Disney's official policy on mask-wearing in their parks that are open -- which, at this point in the States, is only in Florida -- and aside from kids younger than 2 years old ... there are no loopholes for the rule other than eating/drinking, which is standard.
So basically, everyone's gotta wear one, period. There are no considerations for folks with special needs or other underlying conditions ... which seems to have come to a head here. We reached out to Joey's rep as well as Disney for further comment ... no word back yet.
Deshaun Watson insists the only reason he contacted massage therapists over social media is because his usual masseuse couldn't work on him due to the COVID pandemic.
Multiple sources connected to Watson tell us ... the NFL superstar is still adamant he did NOT sexually assault any of the women making claims against him.
He's obviously been following the story ... but strongly disputes the claims made by attorney Tony Buzbee, who claims to be talking with 22 women who say they were violated by Watson.
Most of the women who have filed lawsuits claim Watson first contacted them on Instagram to set up a massage -- which they found surprising considering Watson is a pro athlete who should have tons of resources at his disposal to find established therapists.
But, our sources tell us ... Watson didn't just find these women out of the blue -- insisting when his usual therapist was stopped by the COVID pandemic, he reached out to various friends, teammates and associates to get recommendations.
We're told once Watson made contact ... he put an emphasis on privacy and spelled out the areas he wanted the massage to make sure the masseuse was comfortable and to ensure things stayed professional.
Our sources tell us ... Watson insists he never crossed the line with any of the women and still strongly believes they're being led by a money-hungry attorney who's looking for a payout.
There's more ... Deshaun -- who signed a 4-year, $156 million contract extension in 2020 -- obviously has the means to pay the women off if he wanted to, but he doesn't want to give them a cent because he's adamant he didn't do anything wrong.
Of course, Buzbee said during a news conference on Friday that he has personally vetted all of the accusers he represents ... and insists he's moving forward with their cases to hold Watson accountable, not to squeeze him for money.
Bottom line ... both sides are dug in and are looking forward to their day in court.
Prince Harry has words for kids who lost a parent during the coronavirus pandemic, and he knows from where he speaks ... and it's emotional.
Harry penned the forward to a book -- "Hospital by the Hill" -- aimed at grieving children, and his words of empathy ring loud. As you know, Harry's mom, Princess Diana, was killed in 1997 when he was 12 years old. His mission -- showing the kids they're not alone in their struggle.
Hospital by the hill is a book we’ve created which tells the story of a young person and the loss of their mother, who had been working on the front line.— Hospital by the hill (@ByHospital) March 19, 2021 @ByHospital
We are providing these books for free to any child or young person in the UK affected in this way.
Link in bio. pic.twitter.com/efkxyrWUfR
Harry wrote ... "When I was a young boy I lost my mum. At the time I didn't want to believe it or accept it, and it left a huge hole inside of me. I know how you feel, and I want to assure you that over time that hole will be filled with so much love and support. We all cope with loss in a different way, but when a parent goes to heaven, I was told their spirit, their love and the memories of them do not. They are always with you and you can hold onto them forever. I find this to be true."
He adds, "Now, I never met them, but I know this person was special to you, and they were someone incredibly kind, caring and loving because of where they chose to work. Helping others is one of the most important jobs anyone can ever do.
He goes on ... "You may feel alone, you may feel sad, you may feel angry, you may feel bad. This feeling will pass. And I will make a promise to you – you will feel better and stronger once you are ready to talk about how it makes you feel."
The book is being distributed free of charge to kids in the U.K. who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.
There's a deep-seated hatred for Asian people that goes well beyond Trump's COVID-19 rhetoric ... according to Rep. Andy Kim, who says -- in the wake of the Atlanta shootings -- it's time to confront the issue.
The U.S. Congressman joined TMZ Live Thursday to talk about the mass killing of 8 people, including 6 Asian women, by Robert Long -- who told cops his sex addiction, not racism, motivated his attack on massage parlors.
That claim doesn't sit well with Kim, who says it's not up to Long to make that determination, investigators need to dig and find his real motive.
He also believes the shooter fetishized, over-sexualized and objectified Asian women ... something Asian women live in fear of every day... according to the Congressman.
And, finally, you have to see the heartbreaking story Rep. Kim told us about his 5-year-old son recently dealing with racism at school. He says the painful experience makes it clear Asian-American parents across the country are now being forced to have "the talk" with their kids.
"I just felt the sickness, I could just feel it in me, I could feel it in my bones and my blood and my muscles."
That's Toronto Raptors star Fred VanVleet describing how COVID ravaged his body after testing positive around the end of February ... and now the 27-year-old is focused on getting back on the court.
VanVleet has been out due to the illness for 2 and a half weeks -- but he was finally cleared to return to the gym on Monday to practice. He's still waiting for the green light to play in a game.
VanVleet spoke with reporters Tuesday about how he's handled the situation over the past few weeks -- and was super candid about his experience.
"I tested positive, had symptoms pretty soon after that," VanVleet said.
"Back sore. Body aches. I just [felt] like I just played 3 nights in a row. Sore, headache, my eyes were hurting. I didn't have the shortness of breath or anything like that. I had a fever for a day and a half, two days. But definitely nothing like anything I've ever had."
He added, "It was a whirlwind, definitely an experience that I won't forget ... I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But I'm here, I'm alive, I'm breathing."
"And I know that there's a lot of people that didn't make it through COVID, so my thoughts and my heart is with the families and people that's been affected by this thing that weren't as fortunate as I was and as I am."
VanVleet isn't the only member of the Raptors who was hit by COVID -- his teammates Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Patrick McCaw, and Malachi Flynn have missed time while battling the virus.
Fred says isolating while waiting out the virus was a lonely feeling -- but it's made him appreciate the game of basketball in a whole new way.
"I caught myself walking into the gym just smiling, smiling like I forgot how much I love this ... I'm just happy to be back with the team right now."
Fred says he's not sure how the virus will affect his conditioning when he returns to action but promises he'll "come out swinging" and give it all he can.
The NBA says roughly 100 players have tested positive for COVID so far this season forcing 31 games to be rescheduled.
Stay safe everyone ...
Donald Trump wants to go head-to-head with Meghan Markle for the Presidency, but first, he's doing something critics say he failed to do while in office ... and that's encouraging Americans to get the COVID vaccine.
Trump made it clear Tuesday he's siding with the Queen over Meghan, and says he's not a fan of Prince Harry's wife. In a telephone interview with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo, Trump said he wants MM to follow through with the political ambitions she reportedly has.
Not shockingly, 45 sees running against a political neophyte as the perfect incentive for his potential run to be 47.
As you know ... Meghan and Harry are beefing with the palace over allegations of racism within the Royal Family. Trump says the Queen is a "tremendous person," but he just doesn't like Meghan.
Trump also granted Dr. Fauci's recent wish, encouraging all Americans to get vaccinated for COVID-19 ... especially his supporters, the majority of whom say they won't get the shot, according to recent surveys.
Trump, who quietly got the shot back in January while still in office, is now giving the vaccine a ringing endorsement ... saying it's saving America and the world.