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guvendemir/iStock(ELIZABETHON, Tenn.) -- NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s plane bounced at least twice before "coming down hard" on the right main landing gear resulting in Thursday's fiery crash, officials said Friday.

Earnhardt, his wife and their 1-year-old daughter were on board with two pilots during the accident and they all escaped without serious injuries, officials said.

The Cessna Citation took off from Statesville, North Carolina, for a 20-minute afternoon flight before it crashed while landing at Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, Ralph Hicks of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said at a news conference on Friday.

The crash was captured on surveillance video, Hicks said, which showed the plane bounce "at least twice before coming down hard on the right main landing gear."

"You can actually see the right main landing gear collapsing on the video," he said.

The plane then continued down the runway, went through a fence, and came to a stop on a highway, Hicks said.

The Earnhardts were able to evacuate before the plane erupted in flames, Hicks said, adding that the fire appeared to start after the crash.

Elizabethton Fire Chief Barry Carrier attributed the blaze to fuel from the aircraft.

The former race car driver was taken to Johnson City Medical Center with cuts and abrasions. He was the only person on board who was hospitalized, according to the sheriff.

A spokesman for NBC Sports, where Earnhardt works as a NASCAR analyst, later said that Earnhardt was discharged from the hospital.

Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander said it's extremely lucky that no cars were involved in the accident.

"We're just happy everyone walked away and no one on the ground was injured as well," Alexander said at Friday's news conference.

Both pilots on board were professionally-trained, Hicks said, and when interviewed by the NTSB they provided information consistent with the surveillance video.

The Earnhardts were interviewed and their comments were also consistent with the video, said Hicks.

The surveillance footage of the accident will eventually be released to the public, he added.

The plane had a cockpit voice recorder which will be sent to NTSB headquarters in Washington, DC., Hicks said.

Earnhardt's family and employees expressed their relief after the crash.

"We are so grateful for the outpouring of concern and support. Everyone is doing well enough. Lots of hugs. Lots of prayers to the Good Lord," tweeted Mike Davis, a spokesman for the former NASCAR star.

I know I speak for everyone here in saying we are so grateful for the outpouring of concern and support. Everyone is doing well enough. Lots of hugs. Lots of prayers to the Good Lord. 🙏🏼

— Mike Davis (@MikeDavis88) August 16, 2019

Earnhardt's sister, Kelley Earnhardt, added on Twitter: "Thank you to God, the angels among us, our pilots, first responders, medical staff, our NASCAR family and everyone that has reached out in whatever way to support us all."

Finally laying down for the night and want to say thank you to God, the angels among us, our pilots, first responders, medical staff, our NASCAR family and everyone that has reached out in whatever way to support us all. ❤️

— Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) August 16, 2019

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skynesher/iStock(NEW YORK) --  A former West Point offensive tackle has been granted an exception by the Army in order to sign a three-year deal to play football for the Philadelphia Eagles, according to ESPN.

Brett Toth, an Army second lieutenant, graduated from West Point as a nuclear engineer in May 2018 and has fulfilled his first year of active duty service. But an executive order from President Donald Trump has now allowed him to be recruited by the Eagles.

On June 26, Trump issued an executive order that directed the Pentagon to develop a policy that authorizes new graduates of the service academies and ROTC programs to pursue professional sports immediately following graduation but prior to completing their service requirement.

Under the old policy crafted by former defense secretary James Mattis, graduates were required to fulfill two years of commissioned service in the military before pursuing a professional sports career.

"Such cadets and midshipmen have a short window of time to take advantage of their athletic talents during which playing professional sports is realistically possible," Trump said in the executive order. "At the same time, these student-athletes should honor the commitment they made to serve in the Armed Forces in exchange for the extraordinary benefits afforded to them at taxpayer expense at the Academies or ROTC programs. A revised policy will benefit the student-athletes, the Academies and ROTC programs, and the Armed Forces."

The executive order gave the Pentagon 120 days to develop the new policy, which has yet to be implemented. But based on the directive, two military services have gone ahead and granted exceptions allowing their graduates to go pro.

Prior to Toth's exception, the Air Force last month signed an exception for long snapper Austin Cutting, a seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in the 2019 NFL draft.

Army officials did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the exception signed for Toth.

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Scott Clarke / ESPN Images(NEW YORK) -- Twenty-year-old Naomi Osaka faced her childhood hero Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Final and won, becoming the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam title in a match that many thought would go to Williams.

Her triumph, however, was marred by arguments between Williams and the match’s umpire, Carlos Ramos, sparking a controversy that would have the world talking about tennis for weeks.

As part of the new ESPN series Backstory, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Don Van Natta peeled back the layers of the event and delved into the lives of both Williams and Ramos to understand how the two came together for one of the most divisive moments in recent tennis history during one of the world’s most celebrated finals in sports.

Ramos was only 16 when he began working as a chair umpire in Portugal. One of his friends told Van Natta that Ramos was so focused that he would treat satellite events as if they were the Wimbledon final. But Ramos had big dreams of one day becoming a world-class umpire, a goal that he said would allow him to see the world, Van Natta said.

Williams and her sister, Venus Williams, meanwhile, would rise out of Compton, Calif., to become two of the biggest sports stars in the world by dominating a sport played mostly by white athletes.

With her fierce will to win, Williams did not get to the top without shaking things up. In May 2018, for example, she received criticism for wearing a so-called “catsuit” bodysuit to the French Open. She said the suit was designed to prevent blood clots since she had given birth a few months earlier. French Open President Bernard Giudicelli later said the suit “would no longer be accepted" and that players in future tournaments would have to dress more conservatively.

The heated dispute between Ramos and Williams, who was vying for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, began when Williams was losing to Osaka two games into the second set after Ramos said he witnessed a code violation for coaching — Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, had given her a thumbs up — and gave Williams a warning.

“If he gives me a thumbs-up, he is telling me to come on,” Williams told Ramos at the time. “We don’t have any code and I know you don’t know that, and [I] understand why you may have thought that that was coaching, but it is not. I don't cheat to win; I would rather lose. I am just letting you know.”

Retired tennis champion Chrissie Evert told Van Natta that Mouratoglou, who has coached Williams for seven years, “is not known to be one of those coaches who coaches all the time and Serena never looks at her box. She...figures it out herself.”

From that moment, the tension between Williams and Ramos would escalate. Williams accused Ramos of questioning her integrity and punishing her more harshly than male players. “I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right,” she told him. “I have never cheated.”

A second violation, costing her a point, came after the fifth game of the second set when she slammed a broken racket to the ground in frustration. After repeatedly demanding that Ramos apologize, she received her third violation for what Ramos called “verbal abuse” — a game penalty — after she called him a “thief.”

“You stole a point from me,” she said. “You’re a thief, too.”

Although Williams would go on to win the next game in an excellent display of tennis, Osaka would finish her off in the ensuing match, winning the set and the title.

Mouratoglou told Van Natta that it was the first time he had ever sent a signal to Williams and that he did it “because it felt like it was an important moment.”

“It was probably one of the biggest moments of her career,” Mouratoglou told Van Natta. “She’s in a Grand Slam final to equal the record of all time and she’s losing, and she’s — I [felt] at that moment — she’s lost on the court. So, I tried to help her. That’s my job.”

Yet, even though the incident was a setback for Williams, Mouratoglou said that it was a “fantastic” moment for tennis.

“It’s unbelievable. That was the best moment of tennis [in the] last 10 years,” he told Van Natta. “We don’t have any drama in tennis. We have drama in all other sports, but not tennis.”

Williams gave Osaka a congratulatory hug following the match, but as the crowd booed, Osaka sat down and cried.

“I was down on the court because I was supposed to present the trophy to the winner," Evert told Van Natta. “The floor was shaking, the roof was shaking, the boos were thundering. I could not hear a thing.”

Williams continues to deny that there was a clear coaching violation or that she ever lost control of her emotions, Van Natta said. In a press conference following the match, she said, “The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that wants to express themselves...they want to be a strong woman and they are going to be allowed to do that because of today.”

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iStock (NEW YORK) -- Here are the scores from Thursday's sports events:

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Seattle 7, Detroit 2  
Cleveland 19, NY Yankees 5
Minnesota 13, Texas 6    
LA Angels 8, Chi White Sox 7
Oakland 7, Houston 6

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Miami 13, LA Dodgers 7
Cincinnati 2, St. Louis 1
Philadelphia 7, Chi Cubs 5
NY Mets 10, Atlanta 8
San Francisco 7, Arizona 0

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ChiccoDodiFC/iStock(LOS ANGELES) -- An undocumented immigration activist was freed from an ICE detention center in Southern California nearly three months after he was first detained, thanks to the help of some NFL players and multiple organizations, his lawyers said.

Jose Bello, 22, was released from the Mesa Verde ICE Detention Center in Bakersfield on Monday, according to a press release from the ACLU of Southern California. He was arrested by ICE in May after he presented a poem he wrote criticizing family separations and the Trump administration at a public forum on immigration issues.

 His $50,000 bond was paid for by Josh Norman, a cornerback for the Washington Redskins, and Demario Davis, a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints.

“For 87 days we kept a man from his freedom & family for reciting a poem,” Davis tweeted on Tuesday. “Yesterday he was able to post bail. This dehumanizing, psychological torture needs to stop. And we can stop it.”

Norman called Bello’s story “unfortunately … not unique.”

“ICE is using detention and deportation as weapons to silence immigrant activists and I’ve seen this 1st hand through our work at the border with my brother,” Norman tweeted, referring to his and Davis' work together.

Davis and Norman are members of the Players Coalition, a group of professional athletes working to improve social justice and racial equality. The New York Immigrant Freedom Fund and the National Bail Fund Network also contributed to paying Bello’s bail.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bello’s arrest came about two days after he recited a poem at a Kern County public forum on the impact of California's sanctuary laws, The poem, which was subsequently posted to YouTube by the ACLU, accused those in power of causing fear through separation.

“We don’t want your jobs. We don’t your money. We’re here to work, pay taxes and study,” Bello said in his poem on May 14.

“It’s time to begin standing up for what’s right,” he continued. “Criminalizing children, separating families. ‘Our national security.’ Does that make it alright? No it doesn’t and it won’t.”

 The poem was called “Dear America.”

He was unable to pay his own bail because his job as a farm worker only brings in about $20,000 a year, the ACLU said.

Bello said he saw his “whole future go out the window" while he was in ICE custody, he told Bakersfield ABC affiliate KERO-TV.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of Southern California and Northern California filed a federal lawsuit on Bello's behalf, charging that ICE violated his free speech rights.

Norman said that Bello was exercising his first amendment right to free speech by reciting the poem.

“If he was detained for reciting a peaceful poem then we should really ask ourselves, are our words truly free? This is America right? Where the 1st Amendment is freedom of speech unless I missed the memo somewhere,” Normal said in a statement.

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Matt_Brown/iStock(NEW YORK) -- DeMarcus Cousins may have suffered a knee injury just a month after signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN reports.

Sources tell ESPN the 29-year-old center bumped knees with another player while working out in Las Vegas Monday. Cousins left the court after the incident and is expected to undergo further testing in Los Angeles Thursday.

The four-time All-Star joined the Lakers in July, signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the team.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Two stars of the U.S. women's soccer team say the ball is in the court of the U.S. Soccer Federation after the reigning World Cup champions walked out of mediation talks being held Wednesday in their fight for equal pay.

"They're the only employer that we could have playing for the national team, we're the only employees that they could have, so for better or for worse we're tethered together," Megan Rapinoe, co-captain of the U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) said Thursday on Good Morning America. "I think that if and when and ever they are willing to have a conversation about equal pay that starts there and goes forward, we're always open to that."

"We won't accept anything less than equal pay," she added. "We show up for a game, if we win the game if we lose the game if we tie the game, we want to be paid equally, period."

The USWNT filed an equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation earlier this year. The two sides had agreed to go to mediation just before the World Cup kicked off in France in June.

The lawsuit cites the discrimination in pay, but also the denial of "at least equal playing, training, and travel conditions; equal promotion of their games; equal support and development for their games; and other terms and conditions of employment."

"I think we're very confident in our case in what's transpired," USWNT player Christen Press said on GMA alongside Rapinoe. "I think for us it's more than about this moment or this team ... It's actually about women everywhere being treated equally and respectfully in the workplace so if that means that we're going to go to trial then we're going to do that, and we're going to do it very confidently."

The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) fired back at the athletes in a Wednesday statement, calling their actions "aggressive" and saying they had presented "misleading information" for months.

"We have said numerous times that our goal is to find a resolution, and during mediation we had hoped we would be able to address the issues in a respectful manner and reach an agreement," the USSF said in the statement. "Unfortunately, instead of allowing mediation to proceed in a considerate manner, plaintiffs' counsel took an aggressive and ultimately unproductive approach that follows months of presenting misleading information to the public in an effort to perpetuate confusion."

"We always know there is more we can do," the statement continued. "We value our players, and have continually shown that, by providing them with compensation and support that exceeds any other women's team in the world. Despite inflammatory statements from their spokesperson, which are intended to paint our actions inaccurately and unfairly, we are undaunted in our efforts to continue discussions in good faith."

Press argued Thursday that equality is "not just a word you can say."

"I think it's quite simple from our perspective," she said. "We want to be paid equally and that just means that when we show up to a game that we get compensated the same way that a man would for showing up for the same game."

"And I think that U.S. Soccer and Carlos and the board just showed us that they weren't willing to start there with equality," Press continued. "And it's not just a word you can say, it's something you have to stand behind because on this issue there is no social equality for women without financial equality."

The U.S. women ran undefeated through the 2019 World Cup in June and July, including a 2-0 win over the Netherlands in the final. It was the second consecutive World Cup victory for the women, who have also won three of the last four Olympic gold medals.

The U.S. men's team did not qualify for the most-recent World Cup, and their best World Cup result, third place, came 89 years ago.

When it comes to the actual legal issues at play, the suit points to two federal laws: the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits paying employees unequally based on sex, and Title VII, which prohibits employers discriminating on the basis of sex.

"The U.S. women's soccer team does not need to be the best in the world in order to earn equal pay. The point of non-discrimination law is that employees doing similar work should be paid equally," Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at the Columbia Law School, told ABC News earlier this year.

Women earn guaranteed yearly contracts and benefits, while men are paid for individual match appearances.

In a statement released Wednesday, a USWNT spokesperson said the team wants women to know "we are undaunted" in the fight for equal pay.

"We entered this week's mediation with representatives of USSF full of hope," said Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the U.S. women's national team. "Today we must conclude these meetings sorely disappointed in the Federation's determination to perpetuate fundamentally discriminatory workplace conditions and behavior. It is clear that USSF, including its Board of Directors and President Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed. We want all of our fans, sponsors, peers around the world, and women everywhere to know we are undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial."

When asked about a plan should they lose in their fight, Press responded, "I think you're asking the wrong people what if we lose. It's not generally how we approach things."

Regardless of the trial results, fans spoke out loudly in support of the team both during and after the World Cup. Attendees in France chanted "equal pay" after the women won, while similar chants echoed in the Canyon of Heroes days later when the team paraded through lower Manhattan.

"In 2019 I don't think equal pay is necessarily a novel idea," said Rapinoe. "I think people see how successful we've been and I think that they think we should be compensated for that."

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iStock(NEW YORK) -- Here are the scores from Wednesday's sports events:

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

INTERLEAGUE

Milwaukee 6, Minnesota 5
San Diego 7, Tampa Bay 2
Oakland 9, San Francisco 5
LA Angels 7, Pittsburgh 4
St. Louis 6, Kansas City 0

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Texas 7, Toronto 3
NY Yankees 6, Baltimore 5
Boston 5, Cleveland 1
Chi White Sox 13, Houston 9
Detroit 3, Seattle 2

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Colorado 7, Arizona 6
Washington 17, Cincinnati 7
Philadelphia 11, Chi Cubs 1
LA Dodgers 9, Miami 1
Atlanta 6, NY Mets 4

WOMEN'S NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION PLAYOFFS

Washington 88, Seattle 59
Dallas 84, LA Sparks 78
Connecticut 78, Phoenix 71

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER

Orlando 1, Kansas City 0

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Gearstd/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Rap artist Jay-Z is teaming up with the NFL for a new partnership focusing on music and social justice, following the controversy the league faced over its handling of players kneeling to protest police brutality.

Jay-Z will become the National Football League's “live music entertainment strategist,” a role the NFL says will enhance the live game experience and amplify its social justice efforts.

The rapper called the partnership "an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America."

“With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country," Jay-Z, whose birth name is Shawn Carter, said in a statement.

Jay-Z and Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, will speak about the deal in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

The partnership with Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment company, comes after the league faced a wave of player protests and heavy scrutiny -- including from the rapper -- over how it dealt with the protests.

Beginning in 2016, some football players took a knee during the playing of the national anthem at games to protest police brutality against people of color. Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback believed to be the leader of the protest movement, has not been with an NFL team since end of the 2016 season.

The NFL later issued a new national anthem policy in which players were allowed to stay in the locker room for the national anthem if they did not want to stand, but those on the field were expected to stand.

Jay-Z spoke out in favor of Kaepernick’s protests and, at one point, even seemed to take aim at the league.

"Would you rather be playing football, getting your head dinged in, or would you rather be an iconic figure for the rest of your life?" he told CNN’s Van Jones in January 2018, speaking about Kaepernick.

Months later, Jay-Z released a song with Beyoncé in which he appeared to criticize the NFL.

“I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don't need you,” he rapped on Ape----. “Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums, too.”

Jay-Z appears to change his tune with the new partnership, which will be a multiyear deal.

A major component of the partnership will be to work with the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative, which launched in early 2019 and focuses on education and economic advancement; police and community relations; and criminal justice reform.

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Scott Clarke / ESPN Images(CLEVELAND) -- Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale made history Tuesday night, becoming the fastest pitcher in Major League Baseball history to strike out 2,000 batters.

The 30-year-old accomplished the feat in the third inning of Boston’s game against the Cleveland Indians, striking out Indians center fielder Oscar Mercado. Sale went on to strike out a total of 12 batters in the game, helping the Red Sox win 7-6.

Sale passed former Red Sox ace and Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez by reaching the milestone in 1,626 innings. Martinez set the previous record in 2002, getting 2,000 strikeouts in 1,711⅓ innings.

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