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ESPN anchor draws ire over network’s soft WWE coverage, drops pro wrestling SportsCenter segment

Pro wrestling fans and writers had questioned World Wrestling Entertainment for several weeks after the disappearance of one of its lead announcers from television, Mauro Ranallo, who was suffering from depression.

Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer said Ranallo may have been the victim of WWE’s bullying culture, particularly John Layfield, his color commentator who made disparaging remarks about Ranallo following his absence on TV and during an out-of-character segment on the company’s streaming network.

The allegations became more rampant after the release of “Best Seat in The House,” a book by former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts. Roberts alleged Layfield bullied him and others regularly, particularly announcers. This behavior and culture was not only tolerated but encouraged by WWE owner Vince McMahon.

ESPN started covering WWE regularly last year, launching its own pro wrestling section on its website, and with a weekly SportsCenter segment by ESPN anchor Jonathan Coachman, a former WWE announcer himself.

ESPN has been questioned for its involvement with WWE, especially its reluctance to cover negative news about the company, almost to the point of sticking to storyline-esque interviews on its programming. The questioning began heating up over the weekend when the story bullying story began to go viral. When asked in a tweet if ESPN would cover the controversy, wrestling journalist Meltzer replied expressing doubt in strong language. 

Coachman wasn’t involved in the discussion, but entered the fray anyway with a shot at Meltzer.

In the middle of his argument, Coachman announced he was dropping the weekly WWE segment from SportsCenter. He deleted the Tweet later, then said he had been planning on dropping it for several weeks because of other projects, but his timing seemed suspect. He pointed fans toward ESPN’s vertical for pro wrestling and WWE coverage.

ESPN has drawn ire for its news coverage, often for its abundance of debate shows during the morning hours and conflict of interest of having TV deals with the companies it covers. The network dropped a planned fictional show based on a pro football team after criticism from the NFL, then later dropped support of a PBS Frontline documentary on accusations the NFL had covered up concussion issues. 

John Cena meets 12-year-old fan with cerebral palsy

WrestleMania 33 is Sunday night, and fans will pack the Amway Arena in Orlando or watch the matches live on the WWE Network. John Cena will be one of the headliners in pro wrestling’s biggest showcase.

>> Read more trending news 

Fans all have their favorites, and John Cena certainly ranks high among WWE fans. Recently, Cena made a 12-year-old fan’s dream come true.

At a WWE card in Johnson City, Tennessee, Cena spotted Payton Marion, who has cerebral palsy, and tossed him a T-shirt and wristband, WVLT reported. After the matches, Cena met with Payton and his father, Justin Marion.

“Payton is super excited about all that, all his friends have been aggravating him, calling him a superstar,” Justin Marion told WVLT. “The fact that my son was able to meet one of his heroes, my heart melts, and it was just crazy.”

Justin Marion explained on Reddit that WWE wrestler AJ Styles set up the meeting between Cena and his son.

“He saw us standing around, and asked if we wanted a picture,” Jason Marion said. “Of course we said ‘yes.’ Then he asked if we got to see everyone.”

When Justin Marion said Payton saw everyone but Cena — his favorite wrestler — Styles invited father and son backstage to the locker room.

Cena arrived and chatted with Payton, capping an exciting night for the boy.

Payton Marion said he uses Cena as motivation during his physical therapy.

Cena is one of pro wrestling’s biggest ambassadors, granting more than 500 requests in the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Was there a hidden political message in Lady Gaga's Super Bowl performance?

Lady Gaga’s Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl LI Halftime Show performance had everything: glitz, drones, killer choreography, star power and possibly, a hidden political message you may have missed.

>> Read more trending stories 

>> For complete coverage of Super Bowl 2017, click here    Prior to Sunday’s big game, Gaga said in a press conference that the only statements she planned on making during her halftime show were the ones she has been true to throughout her career.

“I believe in a passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality and the spirit of this country as one of love, and compassion, and kindness,” Gaga said. “My performance will uphold those philosophies.”

When the performance rolled around, several news outlets reported the singer stayed clear of politics during the show and social media users applauded her for leaving politics out of it.

<iframe src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/gaga-gets-political/embed?header=none&amp;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe> <script src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/gaga-gets-political.js?header=none&amp;border=false"></script> [View the story "Gaga gets political?" on Storify]

It was Gaga’s decision to include “This Land Is Your Land” after opening with Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” 

According to the Washington Post, the song was originally considered a “sarcastic protest song” by legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, who grew up during the Great Depression.

Ironically, the song came about in the late 1930s as a retort to Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which played so often on the radio that it irritated Guthrie, because it seemed to ignore the uneven distribution of wealth in America at the time.

According to NPR, Guthrie originally (and sarcastically) called the song "God Blessed America for Me" before renaming it "This Land Is Your Land." 

The original words to the song included this verse:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. The sign was painted, said 'Private Property.' But on the backside, it didn't say nothing.  This land was made for you and me.

And this one:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

Here’s the 1944 recording, which includes the former verse:

According to NPR, Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, suspected the latter verse was left out of the original recording because of  the government’s “strong-armed reaction to such divisive art” during the early ‘50s.

But the version of “This Land is Your Land” Americans know so well doesn’t contain any of these verses.

And Gaga didn’t sing either last night.

But it’s possible her decision to sing “This Land is Your Land” carried a political message in response to President Donald Trump’s recent executive actions, including a travel ban on citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries and a border wall with Mexico.

Super Bowl: 3 reasons why Lady Gaga's halftime performance will make history

Gaga is just one of those artists you can’t NOT care about. 

>> Read more trending stories  

She’s always changing, always expressing herself through fashion and performance. And she never hesitates to break the status quo. Because of who she is, who she loves and how she communicates with the world, her life — as the public sees it — has become pure art. 

All of this was made even more obvious through her half-time performance at Super Bowl 51. If you missed it, you missed out, but thanks to the NFL, you can redeem yourself.

WOW. Amazing.@ladygaga's #PepsiHalftime Show!#SB51 https://t.co/z9vCKRBKkC— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017

With nothing bad to say about her 13 minutes at the Super Bowl, the better question is: What did I love the most?

1. Her tummy

No, seriously. She has a pooch. I know, I know. She’s not overweight, or even sloppy. So why am I mentioning her stomach at all? Because we’re living in a day where young girls and grown women compare themselves to the body types of Bella Hadid, Kylie Jenner and Beyonce every single day. The “Born This Way” babe showed her imperfect-says-society tummy tonight, and not only did I think it was important, I thought it was empowering.

2. She was winded

Sounds like I’m hating, but trust, I’m not. She BLEW, okay? Like she really sang with all her might — and with little help. She jumped off a roof and danced like a maniac but still managed to fit in an angelic “Hi Mom, Hi Dad” during her flawless and passionate piano solo of “Million Reasons.” She proved she’s a real person. 

3. The crowd of lights

The technology during the show had my eyes glued to the screen. I mean, a third of her lighting was from actual people holding lights and executing choreography with their hands and arms. Her performance was inclusive of so many people, not just her little monsters. She never leaves anyone out. 

This performance will go down as one of the best Super Bowl halftime performances ever. 

Super Bowl 2017 commercials: Live updates on the game's best ads

More than 100 million people will tune in to watch the Super Bowl today.

At least a few of those will be watching the game – for the rest of us, it’s the commercials.

>>For complete coverage of Super Bowl 2017, click here 

Budweiser, Wix, Mercedes and Snickers are among the companies set to unveil their million dollar babies. Make that $5 million babies. That’s how much 30 seconds of time will cost the advertisers for Sunday’s game.

We are going to be keeping up with the commercials Sunday, live as they air. Come back here at 6 p.m. ET and join us.

>>RELATED: Atlanta Journal Constitution Radio and TV blogger Rodney Ho on tonight's commercials 

Live updates

<iframe src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/super-bowl-2017-commercials/embed?header=none&amp;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe> <script src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/super-bowl-2017-commercials.js?header=none&amp;border=false"></script> [View the story "Super Bowl 2017 commercials live updates" on Storify]

Super Bowl 2017 commercials: Live updates on the games best ads

More than 100 million people will tune in to watch the Super Bowl today.

At least a few of those will be watching the game – for the rest of us, it’s the commercials.

Budweiser, Wix, Mercedes and Snickers are among the companies set to unveil their million dollar babies. Make that $5 million babies. That’s how much 30 seconds of time will cost the advertisers for Sunday’s game.

We are going to be keeping up with the commercials Sunday, live as they air. Come back here at 6 p.m. ET and join us.

<iframe src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/super-bowl-2017-commercials/embed?header=none&amp;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe> <script src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/super-bowl-2017-commercials.js?header=none&amp;border=false"></script> [View the story "Super Bowl 2017 commercials live updates" on Storify]

Super Bowl 2017 commercials: Live updates on the games best ads

More than 100 million people will tune in to watch the Super Bowl today.

At least a few of those will be watching the game – for the rest of us, it’s the commercials.

Budweiser, Wix, Mercedes and Snickers are among the companies set to unveil their million dollar babies. Make that $5 million babies. That’s how much 30 seconds of time will cost the advertisers for Sunday’s game.

We are going to be keeping up with the commercials Sunday, live as they air. Come back here at 6 p.m. ET and join us.

<iframe src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/super-bowl-2017-commercials/embed?header=none&amp;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe> <script src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/super-bowl-2017-commercials.js?header=none&amp;border=false"></script> [View the story "Super Bowl 2017 commercials live updates" on Storify]

Zac Brown Band to headline pre-Super Bowl concert

Grammy-winning group Zac Brown Band will headline a pre-game concert at NRG Stadium prior to kickoff, the NFL announced Friday.

The Atlanta country rockers will will perform “My Old Man” from their upcoming new album “Welcome Home.”

>> Read more trending stories 

The group will be accompanied by indie-pop group Fitz and the Tantrums on stage before the championship game.

Both performances will air during the Fox NFL pregame show.

>> For complete coverage of Super Bowl LI, click here  

Zac Brown Band and country singer Luke Bryan, who will sing the National Anthem, both have roots in Georgia.

Lady Gaga will perform at halftime.

>> Lady Gaga ups anticipation of Super Bowl on social media 

Other performers who will appear during Sunday's festivities include, "Hamilton" stars Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones, who will sing "America the Beautiful," according to Billboard.

Falcons fans stranded after thinking they booked trip to Super Bowl

Some Atlanta Falcons fans are upset after they paid money for a bus trip to Houston, but the bus never showed up. Fans were even more upset when the woman who organized the trip showed up in Houston.

>> Read more trending stories  

Carolyn Freeman is known as the Bird Lady. She is the unofficial mascot of the Falcons.

>> For complete coverage of Super Bowl LI, click here    She said she is not the bad person people are making her out to be.

"I know I'm a good person. People love me. Even though people try and turn on me and be mad right now," Freeman told WSB-TV.

Falcons fans are upset with her because many of them believe she turned on them. Freeman organized a bus trip from Atlanta to Houston for Falcons fans.

Some people signed up for packages that included event tickets and hotel rooms. When fans showed up Wednesday to head to Houston, there was no bus, no tickets and no hotel rooms.  Freeman said it wasn't her fault.

"I got lied to, and I got scammed," she said, near tears.

Freeman said a friend told her about a man who wanted her to be the face of the bus trip. Her face is on the flyer.

But she said fans paid him for the trip through his website, and she had nothing to do with the money.

Freeman said that now, he won't return her calls.

WSB-TV tried to call him, but got no answer. The station didn't name the man because he hasn't been charged.

Fans became incensed when they saw video of Freeman on a plane to Houston.

She knew that didn't sit well.

"I said, 'Watch and see. As soon as somebody sees me on this plane, they're going to turn on me.' Everybody loved me before I got on that plane, but when I got on that plane, everybody hated me," she said.

Now, Freeman is in Houston trying to find a way to get fans here. She said she has two buses and is trying to find hotels.

WSB-TV asked her what has she learned.

"Check the facts. You got to check everybody because everybody is not an honest person," she said.

Freeman said she doesn't have a hotel to stay in because the one promised to her was never booked.

U.S. wrestlers banned from competition in Iran

Iran on Friday banned U.S. wrestlers from participating in the Freestyle World Cup competition this month in response to President Donald Trump's executive order forbidding visas for Iranians, the IRNA news agency reported.

>> Read more trending news

Iran foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told IRNA that a special committee reviewed the case and "eventually the visit by the U.S. freestyle wrestling team was opposed."

The decision is the first action taken by Iran in response to Trump's executive order banning visas for seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, The Associated Press reported. Iran said earlier this week that it would take retaliatory action.

The competition in Kermanshah is Feb. 16-17.

U.S. freestyle wrestlers have competed in Iran since 1998 after an absence of nearly 20 years. Since then, Americans have attended wrestling competitions hosted by Iran 15 times. Iranians have made 16 visits to the U.S. as guests of USA Wrestling since the 1990s.

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