Sports

Francesco Molinari wins Open as Tiger Woods falls short

Francesco Molinari wins Open as Tiger Woods falls short

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (CNN) - Francesco Molinari became the first Italian man to win a major with victory in the British Open on an absorbing final day at Carnoustie.

The 35-year-old held off an early surge from Tiger Woods and overhauled defending champion Jordan Spieth to clinch the historic Claret Jug Sunday.

Molinari, the world No.15, kept his nerve in sun-baked but breezy conditions on Scotland's east coast to fire a round of 69 to finish eight under.

He finished two clear of four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, Americans Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele and England's fomer US Open champion Justin Rose, who had to birdie the last on Friday to make the weekend cut.

Woods' fairytale of a 15th major and first for 10 years looked a very distinct possibility when he took the lead with nine holes to go, but the former world No.1 struggled over the back nine to fall away.

The 42-year-old Woods, back at the peak of the game after multiple back surgeries, shot 71 to end five under with fellow American Kevin Chappell and England's Eddie Pepperell.

Spieth was tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kisner overnight but slipped away with a closing 76 to end four under.

Molinari's maiden major victory came in his 36th major, a year on from missing the cut in the Open at Royal Birkdale.

A two-time European Ryder Cup player, he has been in fine form this season with a first PGA Tour win -- and by eight shots -- and victory in the European Tour's flagship BMW PGA event at Wentworth.

His previous best finish in a major was tied second at last year's US PGA Championship, won by Justin Thomas.

Molinari teamed up with his brother Edoardo in the Ryder Cup in 2010 and scored a half point against Woods to secure outright victory in his singles match in the 2012 competition in Chicago, dubbed the "Miracle of Medinah" after Europe fought back to win from a seemingly impossible position.

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Tiger Woods poised for Open strike as Jordan Spieth relishes battle

Tiger Woods poised for Open strike as Jordan Spieth relishes battle

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (CNN) - Tiger Woods was positively buzzing, knowing he is within touching distance of perhaps the greatest feat of his storied career.

Twelve years since he won the Open, 10 years since he last won a major, five since he won any tournament.

And with a body repeatedly put back together, for now holding up as he launches a very real bid to add to his haul of 14 majors.

Woods briefly shared the lead on a pulsating third day of the Open at Carnoustie before ending four shots back in the slipstream of defending champion Jordan Spieth, his Carnoustie housemate Kevin Kisner and fellow American Xander Schauffele.

"I've got a chance in this," Woods said, beaming that ice-white smile.

"Given what happened the last few years I didn't know if that would ever happen again, but here I am with a chance Sunday in a major championship."

'Dream come true'

Spieth can make history of his own -- a second straight Open title would make him only the second player after Woods to win four majors before his 25th birthday. Next month he bids to complete the career grand slam of all four major titles in the US PGA.

He would also become the first player to win back-to-back Opens since Padraig Harrington, who began with a maiden Claret Jug here at Carnoustie in 2007.

"It's very cool looking at it from a big-picture point of view but my head will be down," said Spieth.

And beating a resurgent Woods to achieve it is something the Texan is relishing.

"I've always wanted to battle it out in a major with Tiger -- who hasn't?" said Spieth, who was 14 when Woods won his last major.

"It's kind of a dream come true just to have the opportunity."

The joint was jumping

If Sunday is anything like Saturday it will be a blast.

Everywhere you looked there were fireworks.

They don't call it Moving Day for nothing and this one was seismic.

First, Justin Rose set the tone with a stunning 64. Then Spieth drove the first green and made an eagle to leap into contention.

Making his own mark, Woods drained a long birdie putt on the ninth and made a tap-in birdie on 10 to rocket onto the giant yellow leaderboards around the course for the first time.

The joint was jumping and the leaders hadn't set out yet.

For those watching on TV it was like a crazy arcade shoot-'em up, with action everywhere. For those at Carnoustie with F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing Out) it must have been torture as roars sprang up from everywhere, like geysers erupting at random.

Moving Day is when the pack gets shuffled for Sunday's final hand, but this one was like throwing the deck into a stiff Scottish breeze.

When the cards settled, Spieth took up his familiar position at the head of the Open, 12 months after that remarkable victory -- sparked by an unlikely escape via the practice ground -- at Royal Birkdale.

The 24-year-old fired a 65 to push the lead to nine under and was joined late on by his countrymen.

Another American Kevin Chappell was two back on seven under with Italian Francesco Molinari on six and a group of seven, including Woods and Rory McIlroy, at five under.

'Stay within reach'

Fleetingly, Woods grabbed a share of the lead with a birdie at the 15th, but dropped back again at 16.

The three-time champion got a massive break on the 18th, pulling his drive left and missing the water hazard by a couple of yards. He'd dodged a bullet and took advantage by laying up in front of the Barry Burn and then firing a dart to a few feet to save his par.

The round of 66 was his lowest in a major since the Masters in 2011.

"I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 under par. I had to stay within reach," he said.

Delighted

Woods' last major victory -- the US Open at Torrey Pines -- was almost supernatural, given the number of times he chipped in or holed long putts while playing with the pain of what turned out to be a fractured leg.

Arguably, it was more stunning than his iconic Pebble Beach US Open win of 2000 when he won by a record 15 shots.

Asked where victory at Carnoustie would rank, he flashed that radiant smile again.

"We're not there yet," he chided the reporter in jest. "I know what you're trying to say in asking but let me try to get there first. Then ask me again." He may not have answered the question but his glowing face said it all. He was delighted to have been asked.

Woods has been close in majors since 2008 -- in the following five years he had nine top-six finishes, including a playoff defeat by South Korea's YE Yang in the 2009 US PGA at Hazeltine.

Scandal in his private life broke later that year, tipping his whole compass off-axis.

Ace in the pack

Since 2013 he has been hampered by the back issue that required four major operations, including spine fusion surgery last April.

It took him to a dark place where he feared he may not be able to play actively with his kids again, let alone play professional golf to a high level.

So given the backstory, the thrill of the competition lit Woods up like a beacon Saturday.

"It's been a few years since I've felt like this," he said.

Questions have long since dried up about whether Woods thinks he can pass Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles, but they will certainly resurface should he triumph Sunday.

Spieth will draw on his experience and "expect the unexpected" after his drama at Birkdale and his infamous Masters collapse in 2016, but he says he has nothing to prove to anyone but himself now.

All of the field will be mindful of what happened at Carnoustie in 1999, when Jean van de Velde's dream drowned in the Barry Burn and Paul Lawrie came from 10 shots back on the final day to win.

With 19 players within five shots of the lead, and healthy winds forecast for Sunday, it's anyone's guess where the ace is in the pack.

"It's going to be fun," said Woods.

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The Open: Could US 'frat house' hold key to Claret Jug?

The Open: Could US 'frat house' hold key to Claret Jug?

CARNOUSTIE (CNN) - Sometimes it's about who you know, and an invite to the elite Carnoustie "frat house" could be the key to unlocking the Open.

Halfway leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner are two of the fraternity sharing lodgings in Scotland this week, alongside defending champion Jordan Spieth, major winners Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker and Jason Dufner, and fellow American Rickie Fowler.

In the three years the frat house has been running, the winner has twice come from within.

Johnson took the Claret Jug back for the boys at St. Andrews in 2015 and Spieth took his turn at Royal Birkdale last year.

Whatever elixir they are drinking from the historic vessel seems to be working.

The seven occupants own eight major titles between them, with only Kisner and Fowler yet to get off the mark. Their individual PGA Tour career earnings begin at the $15 million of two-time champion Kisner.

Something's clearly rubbed off on Kisner, who was handed the golden ticket for the first time this year, as he pushed the lead to eight under before a double bogey at the last to rejoin Johnson on six under Friday.

Spieth and Fowler both made late runs as the shadows lengthened to get in at three under for the weekend.

'Pants on'

Back at the house, down time involves soccer kickabouts in the garden, meals prepared by the British chef they brought over from the United States, and then movies.

Despite all gunning for the Claret Jug, no topic of conversation is apparently of limits.

"Golf will probably be the tune," adds the 34-year-old Kisner, who is married with two kids.

"Everybody will tell their horror stories and good stories, and we'll laugh and eat a big old meal and sit around and watch something stupid on Netflix. We watched the Russian doping one the other night -- 'Icarus.' That was pretty good."

Kisner insists the illustrious company is "not intimidating at all" and says "everyone is really just chill."

"I learned that everybody's going through the same stuff and trying to shoot the lowest score possible, and everybody puts their pants on the same way I do...probably left leg first," he says in his slow South Carolina drawl.

"So they just won a few more times than I have and probably got a couple more zeros in their bank account."

'Old School-ish'

Spieth is the youngest at 24 with Johnson the elder statesman at 42.

He says it's akin to the college movie "Old School," or at least "Old School-ish."

"I wasn't in a fraternity in college but it kinds of feels like I'm going back to my alma mater and I'm the old guy stepping into the current frat house," said Johnson, who also won the Masters in 2007.

The soccer games can get competitive, with everyone keen to show their athleticism -- all except Dufner, who plays in goal, says Kisner.

Johnson has a "sneaky leg," he says, while Spieth is useful "until he sends it over the goal four houses over and we've got to go knock on the neighbors doors for the soccer ball."

The core of the group, childhood friends Spieth and Thomas, alongside another close PGA Tour pal Smylie Kaufman and occasionally Fowler, have also taken to vacationing together in Cabo San Lucas.

It's a far cry from the rivalries of yesteryear. Imagine Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson going on vacation together in their heyday, or Nick Faldo and Greg Norman sharing a house at Augusta.

It also puts to bed the notion that US Ryder Cup players aren't as united as a team as their European counterparts.

Thomas, Spieth and Fowler are locks to make the US side in Paris in September.

Private jet bill

"It is a very unique group of us," says 25-year-old world No.2 Thomas, who won his breakthrough major at last year's US PGA.

"Obviously we want to beat each other's brains in. I never want to lose to any of my friends, especially my best friends. As weird as it is, it's sometimes harder losing to your close friends than it is to someone you don't even know.

"Then again, last year when I missed the cut I was pulling for Jordan to win. You want to see your friend win if you can't."

Sharing beverages out of the Claret Jug has become a perk of the housemates over the last three years, but one practice that has become lore is that the winner has to pay for a private jet for the crew to fly home.

"I'd be happy to fork that over," admits Johnson.

These not so young Americans are the talk of the town.

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The state of soccer in the US with 2026 World Cup on the horizon

The state of soccer in the US with 2026 World Cup on the horizon

(CNN) - More than 5,000 miles away from the World Cup final in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, thousands of fans filed into the Mercedez-Benz Stadium -- home of Atlanta United FC.

But this was still hours before Atlanta faced the Seattle Sounders, yet more than 20,000 fans were brandishing French flags and checkered Croatia kits.

Stadium lights flashed and goal horns blared every time a player back in Moscow found the back of the net and as the final whistle blew, Les Bleus fans celebrated with euphoria.

It was a taste of what is to come in eight years, with Atlanta likely to become one of the cities to play host to the 2026 World Cup -- an event and a moment that United States soccer and Major League Soccer can't wait for.

"Most countries can only dream of something like this," Carlos Cordeiro, the president of US Soccer, told CNN.

The 2026 World Cup will be the first time 48 teams will play a combined 80 matches in three different countries -- with 60 of those in the US and 20 split evenly between Canada and Mexico.

"It is transformational," Cordeiro said. "It is everything we think it will be and we're only a few weeks into planning it."

Budding in popularity

In September 2014, when Darren Eales was appointed president of Atlanta United, few could have predicted the kind of support the MLS' 22nd franchise would immediately have.

Much to Eales' pleasant surprise, after less than two full seasons of play, Atlanta is on pace to be the league's leader in attendance for the second consecutive season.

"We've created an energy and a passion that rivals anywhere in the world," Eales told CNN.

Atlanta's passion reflects soccer's budding popularity in the US. A Gallup poll from December 2017 notes that soccer is more popular among those aged 18-34 than baseball and equal in popularity to basketball.

According to the United 2026 Bid Book, there are almost four million youth soccer players in the US. And, as a result of youth interest, Cordeiro believes that within the next two decades, soccer will be the "preeminent sport" in the US.

"I think it's going to be really amazing to have that tournament in our country, in North America," star US striker Christian Pulisic told CNN. "Just to grow the sport, grow the culture in this area of the world."

Not as bad as expected?

During the final qualifying round for the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) in mid-October 2017, many soccer pundits expressed dismay at the performance of the US men's national soccer team (USMNT) after it fell 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago and missed the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

That loss and resulting failure to qualify for this year's tournament led to wholesale changes within the US men's soccer program.

USMNT head coach Bruce Arena resigned just days after the defeat, while Sunil Gulati announced he wouldn't seek re-election as US Soccer's president in December.

Cordeiro replaced Gulati a few months later and immediately looked to revamp the federation's technical structure. From August 1, Philadelphia Union sporting director Earnie Stewart will officially help with that rebuilding process as he becomes the USMNT's first-ever general manger.

Many fans feared that the USMNT's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup would minimize the sport's foothold in the US. Yet while heading into this year's World Cup final, Fox's television viewership was down more than 30 percent from 2014, the tournament has still maintained relevance in a way that it might not have been able to 12 years ago.

"It's a really good example of where soccer is, that not qualifying hasn't been the end of the world," Eales said. "It was a disappointment that the American men's national team didn't make the World Cup, but there's still an interest in the game of soccer and the World Cup."

Can the US win the tournament?

Both Eales and Cordeiro agree that the US can't take qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar for granted.

But Eales said that realistically the eight years of lead-in time makes the 2026 World Cup the more likely tournament in which the US might make a deep run.

By then, today's 12 and 13 year-olds entering MLS academies will be in their twenties and the continuity that both Eales and Cordeiro expect within academies and US Soccer will lead to a more defined identity and style of play.

Cordeiro says that additional financial resources will also help a grassroots effort to encourage more widespread participation and tap into a more diverse American talent pool.

The bid committee also believes that there will be record ticket sales and profits in what it says will be the "largest single sporting event the world has ever seen."

Come 2026, if American men's soccer does in fact tap into underserved communities and foster a new generation of talent, then maybe the US will achieve its best results in history.

Certainly Pulisic hopes that US fans will be watching their home team try and cap off the transformational tournament with a title.

"That's the dream of course, playing in a World Cup final," Pulisic said. "So I'm going to do everything I can to give myself a chance to be there and I know that our country and all the players will do the same."

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Tiger Woods fights for legacy -- great or greatest?

Tiger Woods fights for legacy -- great or greatest?

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (CNN) - From the minute he swept into view, you knew something was different.

As Tiger Woods strode onto the Carnoustie practice range, pulses of electricity ripped through the stands, shocking the contemplative crowd into life.

Cheers and cries of "C'mon, Tiger" rang out.

Cameras swung around to train their lenses on him, as if they were radars locating an incoming bogey. TV crews jolted to attention, like meerkats on the savannah standing bolt upright at a sign of danger. The other players on the range tried to look casual and act as if he wasn't there, but they knew.

The man was in town.

By the end of a sun-soaked opening day, he may not have troubled the top of the leaderboard, but the former world No.1, back for the first time since 2015, was still the draw card at the 147th Open Championship. The crowd's reaction was all the conformation needed.

As it was, Woods carded a level-par 71 to finish five shots adrift of fellow American Kevin Kisner, whose 66 kept him one clear of compatriot Tony Finau and South Africans Erik Van Rooyen and Zander Lombard.

But Woods, without a major for 10 years, played well enough to hint at a career story yet to be finished.

Nothing like a Tiger roar

Stroking practice range balls into the silvery Scottish sky, the two stripes of black tape up the back of his neck for a recent niggle were the only giveaway of the backstory.

The four back operations, including spine fusion surgery last April, and the dark times that scared him to death he wouldn't grace this stage again.

Down both sides of the first fairway, spectators massed three and four deep, like nothing any of the previous 46 threeballs teeing off in the year's third major had experienced.

"Is there someone important coming?" asked a marshal in mock surprise.

There were shrieks from the first group of women to see him, then a resounding roar as Woods entered the amphitheatre of stands surrounding the first tee. Even if you can't see him, you can always make out a Tiger roar.

As the giant clock on the white hotel behind ticked around, the starter announced, "This is game number 47, on the tee from USA, Tiger Woods."

Woods, in grey trousers with white shirt under light blue tank top, touched the peak of his cap and stepped into the ball.

Phalanx of photographers

He cracked an iron up the sun-scorched fairway, a result of the UK summer heatwave, but immediately reeled away, shielding his eyes from the grass and dust that had exploded under his club.

Local hero Russell Knox, one of his playing partners alongside Japan's Hideki Matusyama, got a decent cheer, but nothing on the guttural urgings for Woods.

When all three had played, Woods strode off the tee box, lips pursed, game face on, eyes fixed dead ahead.

A sizeable army of media and officials, and a phalanx of photographers set off in pursuit, trailing inside the ropes like a procession of pilgrims.

Mutterings of incredulity and annoyance from the paying punters outside the ropes rippled up the fairway like a wave.

From a perfect lie on a plateau of the hump-backed fairway, Woods fired towards the green. A fat divot flew forward, camera shutters whirred like Gatling guns, a pause, then applause from the vast crowds lounging on the ring of burned-brown dunes surrounding the emerald green.

Soon, Woods settled over his eight-foot putt. All fell silent.

And bang. In it dropped. Birdie. Uproar.

'Best golfer of all time'

If you didn't know the narrative of injury and scandal and loss of form and failed returns, you'd think you were watching the game's preeminent player in his prime, a master of his universe, not a 42-year-old whose dream of a 15th major title seemed dead long ago.

A trademark club twirl followed another striped iron off the second tee. Fans clamored to get a snap of him on their phones -- against the rules, of course, but the modern scourge. When Woods last won a major, Twitter was still in its infancy and Instagram had yet to be invented.

A woman tried to explain his legend to her young son who hadn't seen him in his heyday. "Like Federer, Nadal and Djokovic rolled into one," she said, clutching at a tennis comparison.

Woods continued on his way, pursued by his band of merry men and women kicking up dust like wildebeests thundering across the plains.

There were moments of magic, flashes of power and precision, displays of grit to save pars and the odd personal rebuke. For 11 holes, at least, it promised more, before he faded in the lengthening shadows of high Scottish summer, finishing just after 8:20 p.m. local time.

"I played better than the score indicates," a frustrated Woods told reporters afterwards. Striving for a fourth Open title, he added: "I've always loved playing this championship. This is how the game should be played."

The US-based Knox, a three-time Tour winner who clinched the Irish Open two weeks ago, admitted he had been a touch starstruck.

"I mean, it's Tiger Woods, how would you feel playing with him?" the 33-year-old asked reporters.

"I think he's the best golfer of all time. He's definitely the person I looked up to. So getting to play with him is pretty unique."

He added: "It's cool playing with Tiger but I've got to get over that. I'm here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course."

'Frat house rules'

Meanwhile, Kisner, a two-time PGA Tour winner, had long finished his pacesetting round and amusing the press with stories of how he and his housemates at Carnoustie had been playing soccer every night after the golf.

Not just ordinary housemates either -- there was defending champion Jordan Spieth, fellow major winners Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker, and fellow American Rickie Fowler. Frat house rules.

The 34-year-old Kisner, the world No.33, has a best Open finish of tied 54th, but he backed himself to stay in contention at Carnoustie, suggesting the fast-running conditions were similar to back home in South Carolina.

"I certainly would like to and hope I can," said Kisner, who shared Spieth's plane home following his triumph at Royal Birkdale last year.

"If you don't believe in yourself out here you're going to get run over pretty quickly."

Spieth, who won that remarkable duel with Matt Kuchar last year, admitted to having a "brain fart" on the 15th as he made a double bogey, dropping four shots in the last four holes for a one-over 72.

Ever the optimist, the three-time major champion said: "I'm certainly in a recoverable situation."

The Woods circus is back in town, but there are plenty of other contenders trying to top the bill.

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NFL: Titans star Jurrell Casey says he'll protest during anthem and take fine

NFL: Titans star Jurrell Casey says he'll protest during anthem and take fine

LONDON (CNN) - If the NFL thinks its new rule designed to quell player protests will end its national anthem controversy, it may want to think again.

With less than three weeks to go until the start of preseason, Tennessee Titans star defensive end Jurrell Casey told CNN Sport on Wednesday in an exclusive interview he will remain on the field and protest during the US national anthem, while accepting any fines levied on him this season.

"I'm going to take a fine this year, why not?" said Casey at an NFL promotional event in London. "I'm going to protest during the flag. That's what I'm going to say now."

Casey, coming off three straight Pro-Bowl appearances with the Titans, is the most prominent player so far to state his intention to flout the new NFL rules which dictate that players must either "stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem" or remain out of public view in the locker room.

The move by owners stems from the silent protests that began in 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.

It also brought the wrath of US President Donald Trump, who in 2017 said players' kneeling showed "total disrespect for our great country."

As Trump weighed in on the debate last season, team owners and players searched for ways to protest in a unified manner.

Last September, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan locked arms with his players before a game at London's Wembley Stadium, while Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knelt with his entire team before the playing of the national anthem.

By October, Jones said the league was "suffering negative effects from these protests," and threatened to bench any player who took a knee.

'I'm going to take my fine'

NFL fines will be billed to teams, who have it in their discretion to enforce pre-game anthem observation as they see fit.

The NFL did not specify the amount of the fines, and left open the option of fining players directly by imposing "appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem."

The rules were approved by all 32 NFL owners, with at least one -- San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York -- abstaining, while New York Jets co-owner Christopher Johnson said he would absorb any fines on behalf of his protesting players.

Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk has indicated she accepts her players' rights to remain in the locker room, though has not made any public comment on those who protest on field.

It is unclear so far whether the NFL will have a zero-tolerance policy towards any form of protest surrounding the anthem, though at least one player appears set to test the boundaries.

"I'm going to take my fine," Casey added. "It is what it is, I ain't going to let them stop me from doing what I want to do. If they want to have these battles between players and organizations, this is the way it's going to be."

The veteran going into his eighth NFL season with the Titans noted that his actions will be a continuation from his protests last year, where he raised a fist after the anthem was played and "wanted to be respectful."

The 28-year-old signed a $60.4 million, four-year extension with the Titans in 2017, including $40 million of it guaranteed, according to the NFL.

'Guys are definitely not happy about it'

Neither Casey nor any of his Tennessee teammates have taken a knee during the anthem since the protests were sparked by former 49ers quarterback Kaepernick.

A former Super Bowl starting quarterback, Kaepernick did not latch onto a team last season, and had a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks canceled in April after he would not rule out protesting the anthem.

Kaepernick's situation does not sit well with Casey.

"I think he definitely deserves it," he said. "For all these trash quarterbacks you see that get a shot, that come in and sit on the bench all day, you got a starting quarterback that's out there that can go out there and play.

"You know he has the skill set to be a starting quarterback, and you hold him out just because he is speaking his mind. At the end of the day it speaks (volumes) on what these people really think about you."

Casey said he had not spoken to his coach Mike Vrabel or his Titans teammates about his decision, but was certain other players would follow suit in their own ways.

"Around the NFL, guys are definitely not happy about it," he said. "I feel it's not right, I don't think it was a good decision for the NFL to come up with that ruling. But they have their reasons for what they've done."

Additionally, Casey said he was prepared for publish backlash during the season.

Included in Trump's slew of harsh criticisms of the NFL protest last year was a call on owners to "Get that son of a bitch off the field."

Trump was also not impressed by the new NFL rule, blasting it at a rally in July, asking, "Isn't that worse than not standing?"

"There is always going to be blowback, that is what America is about," Casey said.

"They always like to go on social media and go hard. It is what it is, at the end of the day, I don't pay no mind to it. I'm going to do what I do that's going to bring light to my community.

"At the end of the day we got to do a job," added Casey. "But I will continue to use my platform to keep on speaking up."

'It's not about the anthem'

Five other NFL players attended the London event, which featured a flag football tournament among youth players, with most indicating their desire to move on from the controversy.

"I take great pride in our national anthem," said Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo. "My grandfather served for the States in World War II, I represented my country for our (Under-17 soccer) national team, so that's important to me.

"I can't speak on other guys, but I will certainly be standing and singing regardless."

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Mack Hollins has a younger brother in the Marines, but the recent Super Bowl champion did not want to engage in a discussion on how the players viewed the new rules.

"I'll do whatever the team does. I'm not really into that," he said. "I play ball really, that's all I care about."

Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Kyle Emanuel and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Neiko Thorpe were equally uninterested in the topic.

But not Casey, who stressed that ultimately, the protest was a means to draw attention to social injustice in the US -- a consistent message among players who have been vocal.

"It's not necessarily about the anthem, that's where everybody's messing up," he said. "The way that the justice system treats minorities is the issue that we have."

Three NFL games will be staged in London later this year, with the Seattle Seahawks playing the Oakland Raiders at English Premier League club Tottenham's new stadium on October 14.

The other two games are at Wembley Stadium, with the Titans facing the Los Angeles Chargers on October 21, while the Philadelphia Eagles play the Jaguars on October 28.

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