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LeBron James felt Dan Gilbert’s infamous letter had racial undertones

The scathing letter Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sent to Cleveland fans ripping LeBron James in 2010 was childish and ill-advised, but we haven’t really heard anything about it being racist in nature — that is until now.

James covered a wide range of topics in a GQ feature that was released on Tuesday, including the infamous letter Gilbert wrote after LeBron left the Cavs to sign with the Miami Heat seven years ago. LeBron was asked if he felt the letter had racial undertones, and his response may surprise you.

“Um, I did. I did. It was another conversation I had to have with my kids. It was unfortunate, because I believed in my heart that I had gave that city and that owner, at that point in time, everything that I had. Unfortunately, I felt like, at that point in time, as an organization, we could not bring in enough talent to help us get to what my vision was. A lot of people say they want to win, but they really don’t know how hard it takes, or a lot of people don’t have the vision. So, you know, I don’t really like to go back on that letter, but it pops in my head a few times here, a few times there. I mean, it’s just human nature. I think that had a lot to do with race at that time, too, and that was another opportunity for me to kind of just sit back and say, ‘Okay, well, how can we get better? How can we get better? How can I get better?’ And if it happens again, then you’re able to have an even more positive outlook on it. It wasn’t the notion of I wanted to do it my way. It was the notion of I’m gonna play this game, and I’m gonna prepare myself so damn hard that when I decide to do something off the court, I want to be able to do it because I’ve paid my dues.”

In the letter, Gilbert unloaded on James for the “narcissistic, self-promotional build-up” that became known as “The Decision.” LeBron himself has even said that he regretted the way his free agency decision was announced in 2010. Gilbert also told fans they don’t deserve the type of “cowardly betrayal” James had burdened them with.

There’s no denying that the letter was immature. Gilbert sounded like a scorned ex who had just been dumped by his longtime partner, and he even went so far as to guarantee the Cavs would win a championship before LeBron did. We all saw how that turned out.

Gilbert has since apologized to LeBron for the letter, but it obviously still bothers the 32-year-old superstar. That said, it’s somewhat surprising to hear James say he felt there were racial undertones in the things Gilbert said. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we hear reports like this about LeBron’s future.


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World Cup play-offs: Denmark v Rep of Ireland, Northern Ireland v Switzerland | Football

The Republic of Ireland have been drawn against Denmark in the play-offs for the 2018 World Cup while Northern Ireland will face Switzerland for a spot in the finals.

Both nations avoided four-time winners Italy and will be hopeful of booking their place in Russia next summer.

Martin O’Neill’s Republic beat Wales last week to seal their spot as runners-up in Group D while Northern Ireland finished second to Germany in Group C.

The two-legged ties will take place between 9 and 14 November, with Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland at home in the opening leg, while the Republic of Ireland travel to Denmark.

Switzerland were unlucky not to reach the finals as winners of Group B, ending the campaign with nine wins from their 10 qualifiers.

They lost to Portugal in the final game of the group to finish behind the European champions and are the highest-ranked nation in the play-offs, sitting 11th in the rankings.

Northern Ireland lost to Germany and Norway in their final two qualifiers but still finished four points clear of Czech Republic to seal their place in the play-offs. Michael O’Neill took them to the second round at Euro 2016 and they are 23rd in the latest FIFA rankings.

The Republic of Ireland ended their Group D qualification campaign on 19 points, the same as their northern neighbours, as Serbia topped the group. A James McClean goal was enough for Martin O’Neill’s side to win in Wales last week and secure the play-off berth at the expense of their hosts.

Denmark missed out on the 2014 World Cup but finished second in Group E behind winners Poland as they look to book their fifth appearance at the finals.

Croatia play Greece with Italy and Sweden drawn together in the most eye-catching of the play-off fixtures.


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Tour champion Froome could face Dumoulin test on 2018 route

PARIS (AP) Defending champion Chris Froome can expect a stern challenge from Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin in next year’s Tour de France.

Froome is chasing a record-equaling fifth victory to move level with Belgian great Eddy Merckx, French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain.

Froome and Dumoulin won the three Grand Tours last year, with Froome adding the Spanish Vuelta and Dumoulin winning the Giro d’Italia.

The 105th edition of the Tour features a hilly 31-kilometer (19-mile) time trial through the Basque country on the penultimate day. Froome is a specialist, but Dumoulin is the reigning world time trial champion.

The 32-year-old Froome is still in his prime, while the 26-year-old Dumoulin is approaching his.

”A contest between Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin, two riders with similar qualities, wouldn’t displease me. It would force one of the two to try something different to surprise the other,” Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme said Tuesday. ”We’re looking at a new generation that wants to entertain. I think that if Christopher Froome is up against Tom Dumoulin, they will want to do that. They will be more or less equal in the time trials. That’s something very exciting.”

The race starts on July 7 – a week later than usual because of the soccer World Cup in Russia – and opens with a flat 189-kilometer (117-mile) route for sprinters from Noirmoutier-en-l’ile to Fontenay-le-Comte in the Vendee region, on the Atlantic coast.

With the time trial returning after being omitted the last two years, Froome’s Team Sky will be confident of creating early time gaps on Stage 3 – a 35-kilometer (21.7-mile) route starting and ending in Cholet in Western France. But Sky faces tough competition, because Dumoulin’s Sunweb team is the reigning TTT world champion.

The Tour route, which goes clockwise, features 25 mountain climbs – ranging from the relatively difficult Category 2 to Category 1 and the daunting Hors Categorie (beyond classification). Eleven are in the Alps, four in the Massif central region and 10 in the Pyrenees.

The difficult climbs start on Stage 10, the first of three straight days of grueling Alpine ascents. But organizers have preceded that with a tricky ninth stage that could shake up the peloton. It takes riders over 15 treacherous cobblestone sections: the highest number since the 1980 Tour, with nearly 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) altogether.

”It’s going to be a very nervous race,” Froome said.

The Roubaix cobbles may perhaps trouble Froome, although Prudhomme thinks the British rider can handle anything.

”The leaders of the Tour have the ability to adapt. We’ve seen that Chris Froome has a range of abilities much wider than people said,” Prudhomme said. ”He’s intelligent and hard-working. He keeps on winning in a different manner than in previous years.”

Even though Froome will be 33 on next year’s Tour, Prudhomme still thinks he can improve.

”I don’t think we’ve seen everything that Froome has to offer,” Prudhomme said. ”He is strong in areas we didn’t think he was.”

The cobbles are followed by a rest day on July 16, and Froome had better make the most of it because the Alps start brutally the day after.

Stage 10 on July 17 has four difficult climbs on a 159-kilometer (98.6-mile) route from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand. They include a punchy ascent of Montee du plateau de Glieres, featuring for the first time.

”Six kilometers with an 11.2 percent gradient is monumental,” Prudhomme said.

The third day of Alpine climbing begins with Col de la Madeleine, then Croix de Fer (which translates as the ominous-sounding Iron Cross) and ends with an ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez: three of the Tour’s most well-known.

”The Alpe d’Huez stage will be the Queen stage,” said Froome, selecting it as the hardest of the race. ”It’s going to be a very big challenge.”

Dumoulin is not in Froome’s class as a climber, but is not so easy to drop. Whether he can hang in with Froome all the way to the Pyrenees, however, will prove crucial to his chances.

The three tough days of climbing in the Pyrenees starts with Stage 16 on July 24: a daunting 218-kilometer (135-mile) route from Carcassone to Bagneres-de-Luchon that follows the second rest day.

Stage 17 is short at 65 kilometers (40 miles) but cruel, with three consecutive nasty climbs, ending with an attack up Col de Portet.

Stage 18 is relatively flat but the next day’s third and final day of climbing on Stage 19 has four ascents and then ends with a potentially treacherous 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) descent that will test the concentration of tired riders.

Whoever is freshest after that will have a better chance of challenging Froome in the time trial.

The 21-stage race ends with its customary processional Sunday finish on the Champs-Elysees.


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Gregg Popovich calls Donald Trump a ‘soulless coward’ after Obama comments | Sport

On the opening day of the NBA season the San Antonio Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich, has launched his latest broadside at Donald Trump.

Popovich, who has won five NBA championships with the Spurs, was incensed after the US president falsely claimed Barack Obama and other presidents didn’t contact the families of soldiers killed in action. Popovich, is an Air Force veteran and considered a career with the CIA before committing to basketball.

Trump’s comments came after the deaths of US servicemen in Niger, and Popovich was angry enough to contact The Nation’s Dave Zirin to go on the record about the subject. Zirin is known for his coverage of sports and social issues.

“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never ending divisiveness,” Popovich told Zirin. “But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”

Popovich also spoke of his contempt for Trump’s inner circle. “This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner– and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers – is as low as it gets,” Popovich added.

“We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it.”

Popovich has been a constant critic of the US president. In May he was asked if he was ever distracted by events outside sports. While he did not mention Trump by name, it was clear to whom he was referring.

Sean Wagner-McGough
(@seanjwagner)

Gonna guess that Pop is talking about Donald Trump here. pic.twitter.com/BP1ml37nP6


May 14, 2017

“It’s interesting you would ask that,” Popovich said at the time. “Usually things happen in the world, and you go to work, you know, and you’ve got your family and you’ve got your friends and you do what you do, but to this day I feel like there’s a cloud, a pall over the whole country – in a paranoid, surreal sort of way.

“It’s got nothing to do with the Democrats losing the election. It’s got to do with the way one individual conducts himself. And that’s embarrassing, it’s dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for, what we expect the country to be. But for this individual, he’s in a game show. And everything that happens begins and ends with him – not our people or our country. Every time he talks about those things, that’s just a ruse. That’s just disingenuous, cynical and fake.”

Other NBA players and coaches have been critical of Trump. LeBron James has called the president “a bum”, while the coach of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr, said Trump’s election was a blow for “respect and dignity”.


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Froome wins Velo d’Or award for 3rd time

PARIS (AP) Four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome has capped his season by winning the Velo d’Or award as the best rider of 2017.

The Team Sky leader succeeded three-time world champion Peter Sagan.

Froome enjoyed a spectacular year, becoming the third man to complete the Tour-Vuelta double in the same season, after Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978, when the Vuelta was still held in the spring before the Tour.

Froome was awarded his trophy on Tuesday during the presentation of the Tour de France route. He says ”it’s obviously a season I will remember all my life.”

Froome will be chasing a record-equaling fifth Tour victory next year to move level with Anquetil, Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain.


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World Cup 2018 play-off draw – live! | Football

Preamble

Updated


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Spurs’ Popovich labels Trump ‘a soulless coward’

SAN ANTONIO (AP) San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has called President Donald Trump “a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others” in response to Trump’s comment Monday that former President Barack Obama and other commanders in chief “didn’t make calls” to families of fallen soldiers.

Former Obama staffers and a spokesman for former President George W. Bush pushed back on Trump’s comments. The White House press secretary said that Trump wasn’t criticizing his predecessors.

Popovich has been an outspoken critic of Trump, but tells The Nation magazine that Trump’s comments Monday were “beyond the pale” and “as low as it gets.” He calls Trump “a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it.”


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Trump v the NFL: the latest battle in a long war over sports, race and politics | Sport

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Those were the words of Colin Kaepernick, then the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, when his decision to kneel during the national anthem first drew widespread attention.

It was 26 August 2016, before a pre-season game in front of Kaepernick’s home crowd at the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. He had already sat for the anthem during his team’s first two pre-season games, seeking to draw attention to police brutality, but only on this day did his actions prompt immediate questions.

“To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” Kaepernick, then 28, said. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Today, Kaepernick is unemployed – sidelined in the past year by the most popular sports league in America. On Sunday it was reported he was set to file a lawsuit against the NFL’s team owners claiming they have colluded to keep him out of the league.

Last month, he was labeled a “son of a bitch” by Donald Trump, who used the bully pulpit of the presidency to start an explosive feud with the NFL by suggesting players who kneel during the pre-game rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner be fired.

The controversy has taken center stage in Trump’s culture war, pitting his overwhelmingly white base against the predominantly black athletes who have protested in the pursuit of criminal justice reform.

A tumultuous series of events has followed Trump’s comments, which were amplified by large-scale on-field protests and an initial show of solidarity by the NFL with its players. Within a matter of weeks, the president has successfully obscured the debate into a matter of patriotism, driving a wedge between players, franchises and fans.

And last week, the NFL appeared to acquiesce.

Although the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, said there had been no formal change in policy, a letter he sent to all 32 teams stating that athletes should stand for the anthem suggested a rule change might be under way.

For civil rights advocates, a possible reversal would mark the latest in what they see as punitive measures to silence black voices – bringing the issue full circle since Kaepernick first took the position that led him down a path of isolation.

Although the protests boiled to the surface in the last few weeks, the intersection of politics and sports has been an underlying issue in the US dating back well over a century.

Before the nation was introduced to Kaepernick, a long line of athletes, some with stories much lesser known, embodied the struggle to overcome the prevailing dominance of racial discrimination in American sports.



Jack Johnson, right, knocks out Jim Jeffries in Reno, Nevada, 4 July 1910. Photograph: AP

“There’s been a thread of activism, sometimes direct and sometimes implicit, that has gone on for the past 120 years,” said Samuel Freedman, the author of Breaking the Line, a book about black college football and the civil rights movement.

There was Jack Johnson, the first black man to hold the title of world heavyweight boxing champion, who was convicted by an all-white jury in 1913 for having an interracial relationship. Three years earlier, race riots had ensued when Johnson defeated Jim Jeffries, a white boxer known as the “Great White Hope”, before a nearly all-white crowd.

At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, as ideology rooted in Aryan supremacy spurred the rise of Nazi Germany, track and field athlete Jesse Owens won a record-breaking four gold medals. But Owens, the son of a sharecropper and the grandson of a slave, was hardly championed upon his return home. His victories went unacknowledged by Franklin Roosevelt, and bankable advertising contracts eluded him, forcing Owens to work several jobs to support his family.

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s, paving the way for desegregation in major American sports leagues. And all-time boxing great Muhammad Ali was inextricably associated with his politics, from his advocacy against the Vietnam war to his civil rights activism.

Today’s generation of black athletes “hark back to the activists of the 1960s”, Freedman said, “rather than the determinedly apolitical ones like Michael Jordan in the 80s and 90s”.

Circa 1945: a portrait of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ infielder Jackie Robinson in uniform.



Circa 1945: a portrait of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ infielder Jackie Robinson in uniform. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jordan, the most famous basketball player of all time, notoriously shied away from politics, lending a neutral veneer to a brand that catapulted him to unprecedented commercial heights.

This reticence was born in many ways from fear of retribution at a time when lucrative contracts and high-profile endorsements would be placed squarely on the line.

Boasting of more than a dozen endorsement deals, Jordan became the global face of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Gatorade. Above all, he launched the Nike-owned Jordan sportswear line that three decades later topped $2.8bn in revenue. Jordan was acutely aware of the potential for politics to undermine his image, reportedly telling a friend: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Jordan’s position, his vow of silence, was in stark contrast to his one-time team mate, Craig Hodges, whose decision to raise the specter of racism and engage in overt displays of political activism, virtually ended his career.

Even 25 years later, Hodges recalls the isolation he felt while forging a different path.

Regarded as one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, Hodges had played four seasons with the Chicago Bulls as a backup shooting guard. The storied team, led by Jordan, had just won its second consecutive championship when Hodges, then 32, was not re-signed in 1992.

At the time, a team official justified the move by claiming Hodges, who had been in the league for 10 seasons, “was on his last legs as a player”.

But Hodges believes he paid the price of political activism, pointing to his decidedly outspoken nature.

He had criticized the NBA when asked about the league’s lack of black owners, and even called out Jordan, citing his team-mate’s reticence to speak out against racism in the criminal justice system amid riots over the LAPD’s brutal assault of Rodney King in April 1992.

If athletes today are boycotting visits to Trump’s White House, Hodges recounted his own decision to make a statement before President George HW Bush. When the Bulls were invited to the White House, Hodges donned a dashiki and left a letter for Bush in which he implored the president to address the systemic injustices toward the African American community.

Hodges said in an interview he was effectively shut out of the league.

“The proof is in the pudding – in not being able to get my union to represent me,” he told the Guardian. “It was clear what was happening.”

Even the Bulls’ coach, Phil Jackson, acknowledged at the time he “found it strange that not a single team called to inquire about [Hodges]”.

Unlike the nationwide focus on today’s protests, Hodges said the impact of his choices was less obvious back then.

“You could sweep it under the rug,” he said. “People didn’t ask, ‘What happened? Where is Craig Hodges?’”

Four years after Hodges disappeared from the basketball court, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf found his own NBA career cut short after refusing to stand for the national anthem while playing for the Denver Nuggets in 1996. Bearing resemblance to Kaepernick’s protests today, Abdul-Rauf saw the American flag as a symbol of racism and oppression, although he cited his Muslim faith as part of the equation.

“You can’t be for God and for oppression,” he said at the time. “I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting.”

The NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for one game, but a compromise with the backing of the players’ union enabled him to instead stand and pray with his head down during the anthem.

Craig Hodges wins the three-point contest in 1990.



Craig Hodges wins the three-point contest in 1990. Photograph: Nathaniel S Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

He was nonetheless traded at the end of the season, despite averaging a team-high 19.2 points, and within two years was out of a job at the age of 29. Forced to play overseas, Abdul-Rauf returned to the NBA for a short stint on the Vancouver Grizzlies in 2000-2001, but with minimal playing time.

“It’s a process of just trying to weed you out,” Abdul-Rauf told the Undefeated last year. “This is what I feel is going to happen to [Kaepernick].”

“It’s kind of like a setup … trying to set you up to fail and so when they get rid of you, they can blame it on that,” he added, “as opposed to, it was really because he took these positions.

“They don’t want these type of examples to spread, so they’ve got to make an example of individuals like this.”

In a generation defined by the advent of social media, it is near impossible for the blacklisting of a player to go unnoticed. And it is equally difficult, sports observers say, for athletes not to feel compelled to use their vast platforms to voice their opinions.

When Trump first took aim at the kneeling protests, and less than 24 hours later attacked NBA star Stephen Curry for saying he would not accept an invitation to the White House, the president was sharply rebuked by LeBron James, who tweeted: “U bum – @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

With more than 1.5m likes and at least half a million retweets, James’s tweet quickly became more viral than anything Trump has ever posted to his preferred medium. Days later, James told reporters the president was ignorant on matters of race and condemned the marginalization of Kaepernick, stating: “I wish I owned an NFL team right now. I’d sign him today.”

“LeBron has more Twitter followers than Donald Trump,” said Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation and author of several books about sports and politics.

“His ability to get his message out is huge. He has more power than any other player in the history of the NBA, in terms of his power to shape his own team and shape his own destiny.”

Athletes are further emboldened by a movement that transcends the confines of what might happen on the court or field. The cause of Kaepernick’s protest is shared by the tens of thousands who have marched in Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country, hardened in their resolve each time the issue is amplified by another viral video of an unarmed black man and woman being beaten or killed by police.

“Whenever athletes speak out and do things in a way that becomes lionized, it is because their movement is in the streets,” Zirin said.

“The new cast is much more about not just the bottom line.”

As athletes move to increasingly elevate social justice issues, recent polling has found opposition remains toward the Black Lives Matter. The number of those holding a favorable opinion of the movement drops sharply among whites, with only 35% saying they have a positive view, according to a recent Harvard-Harris poll.

Michael Jordan receives the presidential medal of freedom from Barack Obama in 2016.



Michael Jordan receives the presidential medal of freedom from Barack Obama in 2016. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

In the same way that Ali’s draft protests divided America in an earlier age, today’s NFL protests have also split the American public – with results shifting dramatically along racial lines.

The numbers come as no surprise to Ameer Hasan Loggins, a friend of Kaepernick’s and doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, who said civil rights movements have never been widely popular in their time.

“It has always been unpopular for black people to speak out against systematic oppression,” Loggins said, while noting civil rights protests have long been characterized by opponents as “divisive”.

“There isn’t a single player who has protested, from Colin onward, who has said, ‘I’m against this flag and I hate the military’. And yet that is the message that’s been crammed down everyone’s throat and propagated to the American public.”

“It allows somebody like Donald Trump to control, co-opt and hijack the original reasoning behind the protest,” Loggins added, “and turn it into this conversation about patriotism vs anti-Americanism.”

The racial dichotomy of the demographics on and off the field also play a key role in how the protests are received.

Whereas African Americans comprise nearly 70% of the players in the NFL, 97% of majority owners are white, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. Public records show that NFL owners and the league donated at least $7.75m to Trump’s inaugural committee, while football fans are also overwhelmingly white and 21% more likely to be Republican.

“I think we’re seeing a backlash on the part of many white fans, based on the instances of booing,” said Freedman. “The backlash doesn’t always take such obvious form. A lot of times, it hides behind the phrases, ‘They should keep politics out of sports.’”

To Hodges, the concept of ownership and separating sports from politics has inherently racial implications.

“We’re in a superior position, so you can work for us, you can play for us, but you can’t operate like us. You can’t speak like us,” Hodges said of the mentality.

“You can make millions, just don’t expect justice from us.”


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Pennsylvania college offers cut players reinstatement

READING, Pa. (AP) Three football players who were cut from the team at Division III Albright College in Pennsylvania for kneeling during the national anthem have been offered reinstatement.

In an open letter shared to the school’s website Monday, Albright President Jacquelyn Fetrow says ongoing review of the details surrounding the team’s game against Delaware Valley last week has ”provided greater clarity” and led to the reinstatement offers.

Sophomore Gyree Durante was dropped from the team after he took a knee while the anthem was playing. The Reading Eagle reports two other unidentified players were dropped after not properly kneeling during the coin toss.

The movement to kneel or otherwise protest during the national anthem was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season over his view of police mistreatment of black males.


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David Squires on … the thrilling return of the Premier League

Our resident cartoonist on Liverpool 0-0 Man Utd, the giddy anticipation before Leicester v West Brom and Crystal Palace winning an actual football match

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