Five iconic sporting protests as NFL players take a knee during national anthem

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Sunday proved to be a landmark day in US sports history as NFL players across the country knelt or locked arms during the national anthem in response to attacks from President Donald Trump.

It was far from the first time sports and politics were intertwined, with athletes often having used their platform to make a statement.

Here’s a look at five iconic sporting protests.

DAVISON AT THE DERBY

Political activist Emily Davison, threw herself in front of King George V’s horse, Anmer, during the 1913 Epsom Derby, to try to earn women the right to vote. She died in the incident.

Davison paid with her life for her protest. (Image courtesy RTE)

Davison paid with her life for her protest. (Image courtesy RTE)

BLACK POWER SALUTE

African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, after winning gold and silver in the 200m sprint, as a silent protest against racial discrimination of black people in the United States.

“If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say ‘a Negro’. We are black and we are proud of being black,” Smith later said in the press conference. “Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

Tommie Smith's protest has become one of sports' most iconic moments.

Tommie Smith’s protest has become one of sports’ most iconic moments.

TAKE A KNEE

NFL players across the US kneeled during the National Anthem in response to an attack from President Donald Trump.

Members of the Dallas Cowboys linked arms and knelt before the anthem on Sunday.

Members of the Dallas Cowboys linked arms and knelt before the anthem on Sunday.

FOWLER BACKS DOCKERS

The legendary Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler showed his empathy with 500 sacked Merseyside dockers revealing a t-shirt urging support during a game against SK Brann, of Bergen in 1997.

He was fined 900 pounds by UEFA for his actions.

Robbie Fowler showed his solidarity with dockers in 1997.

Robbie Fowler showed his solidarity with dockers in 1997.

TENNIS BALL PROTEST

Basel and Luzern fans were so outraged at a change to a kick-off time they threw thousands of tennis balls on to the pitch.

The biggest match of the Swiss Super League was moved to 12:45pm on Sunday, November 7, 2010 because Swiss TV didn’t want it to clash with the ATP Basel final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

We have to admit the football fans’ response by throwing tennis balls in protest was quite funny.

Basel fans’ protest in 2010. (Image courtesy Reuters)

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CTE diagnosis raises more questions in Aaron Hernandez saga

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The cloud cast by the Aaron Hernandez tragedy has become menacingly darker.

The life of the 27-year-old which hurtled into a nightmare of murder charges and violence ended last April with the use of a bedsheet in a prison cell.

While the sporting world was shocked at such a brutal ending, little was made about the NFL’s role in his demise.

Questions were rightly posed about the inability of the Patriots to see the warning signs despite the alarm bells shrieking.

Yes, professional athletes are adults but was protecting such a vulnerable, impressionable man who clearly had deep rooted problems a burden too far?

Yet following stunning revelations last week that Hernandez was severely affected by CTE – the degenerative brain condition caused by repeated blows to the head – this story, which the families of the victims thought had reached its conclusion, has suddenly started to move in a new direction.

And for commissioner Roger Goodell and his attempts to brush aside the concussion crisis which is threatening the future of American football, it makes extremely uncomfortable reading.

Medics at Boston University, who have become the leading voices in the battle to heighten awareness of the sport’s dangers, revealed Hernandez was indeed suffering from Stage 3 CTE – a level of damage only seen in ex-players around the 60-year-old mark. No-one this young has ever been affected so badly.

Of course, Hernandez clearly had severe mental issues. He wasted a multi-million dollar contract by gunning down defenseless Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancée’s sister, following an argument.

There were other scrapes and gangster-like behaviour. Not the actions of someone whose faculties are fully intact.

So while the debate over whether CTE – which is known to cause unduly aggressive, violent and wild behavioural swings – actually caused him to act so recklessly is a tremendously difficult one to navigate, it’s undeniable that his time in the NFL wreaked havoc with his head.

A recent study found signs of the disease in 110 of 111 NFL players whose brains were inspected.

Not all of them became psychopathic murderers.

Aaron Hernandez's death has now been linked to CTE.

Aaron Hernandez’s death has now been linked to CTE.

In fact, in the similarly tragic cases of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, the only shots fired were fatally at themselves.

Though who’s to say that it didn’t play any part at all in his shocking demise? His injuries were caused by football so it’s fair to speculate that his death was also linked.

Hernandez’s attorney Jose Baez is certainly playing that card.

He accuses the NFL of hiding the true dangers of the sport.

“Defendants were fully aware of the dangers of exposing NFL players to repeated traumatic head impacts,” Baez said in the lawsuit. “Yet, defendants concealed and misrepresented the risks.”

The concussion timebomb has been ticking for a while – it’s already cost almost $1 billion in lawsuits though President Donald Trump stupidly accused referees of “ruining the game” at the weekend with their clampdown on dangerous challenges – yet could now be ready to explode.

Science is working hard to unearth more harsh truths but isn’t there yet.

Those in the game will point to those ex-players who are totally fine. They will stress the stats mask the realities. Just like boxers, NFL players know the risks when they sign on the dotted line.

This gruesome new chapter, however, must be the start of more preventative measures.

Better helmets have been introduced. Supposedly safer ways to tackle have also been brought in to not only safeguard today’s stars, but those of tomorrow as well.

The Canadian Football League recently announced full contact practice sessions are to be banned during the season.

The NFL currently have 14 per season which was agreed in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement so don’t expect any major overhaul right now.

The legal battles will continue to rage as will the debates about player safety.

Yet with all these new gruesome details being laid bare, how can the NFL survive without making drastic changes?

The answer, if Goodell is listening, is it surely cannot.

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Sam Bradford looked like the best version of himself as he let it rip in Week 1

Jay Asser 12/09/2017
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Purple patch: Sam Bradford was on fire against the Saints. Picture: Getty Images.

Talent has never been a question for Sam Bradford.

The same abilities that made the quarterback the number one overall pick in the 2010 draft were on full display in the Minnesota Vikings’ 29-19 win over New Orleans, in which he carved up the Saints in arguably the greatest performance of his career.

It may have been the zenith of what Bradford’s capable of, but it was also the latest in a long line of tantalising efforts that have teased, yet never fully satisfied his potential.

Maddeningly, these types of games by Bradford have been wildly inconsistent during his eight-year career, but not necessarily because of what he’s able to do, but rather what he chooses to do – throw safe, short passes.

Even in his first season with Minnesota last year when he set an NFL record by completing 71.6 per cent of his passes, Bradford averaged just 7.02 yards per attempt and an even worse 6.2 air yards per pass.

The quarterback who picked apart New Orleans on Monday was a far cry from ‘captain checkdown’, averaging 10.81 yards per attempt en route to totalling 346 yards and three touchdowns for a career-high passer rating of 143.0.

After being constantly hit and sacked 37 times last year (tied for fourth-most in the league), Bradford’s offensive line kept him relatively clean against the Saints and he leveraged the time to complete 9-of-10 intermediate and downfield passes for 234 yards and two scores, according to Pro Football Focus.

“They gave me plenty of time to really sit back there and evaluate things and find the open receiver,” he said of his offensive line.

While Bradford was impressive, he was facing a pass defence that ranked dead last in the NFL last year in yards allowed per game (274.0) and fourth-worst in passer rating allowed (98.1).

But with Bradford still only 29 years old and in an offensive system he had an entire offseason to get familiar with (after being traded to the Vikings days before the start of the 2016 season), it’s not inconceivable that this time, he may finally be becoming the quarterback that fulfils the loftiest of expectations.

“We were very confident in the progress we were making, from OTAs to training camp,” Bradford said. “I saw it in our guys, every day. I think [Monday] was really the first time it translated onto the field. I think we have the capability of doing that on a regular basis.”

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