Cunningham suspended four games for performance enhancers

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Cunningham suspended four games for performance enhancers

Jermaine Cunningham, whose rise to relevance this season seemed to squelch concerns he was bound for bust-dom, has been suspended four games for using performance-enhancing substances.

The NFL announced Cunningham's suspension Monday afternoon. The third-year defensive end is eligible to return to the team on December 24 in time for the regular-season finale against Miami.

Cunningham was a second-round pick out of Florida in 2010. As a rookie, he showed promise at outside linebacker and had a key pressure that led to a game-clinching interception against the Colts.

But in 2011, he slid into irrelevance and made just one tackle.

This season, with the Patriots moving even more decidedly to a 4-3 alignment, Cunningham has been a key contributor in pass-rush situations at defensive tackle. He has 2.5 sacks and 15 tackles. Last week, with rookie Chandler Jones injured, Cunningham went to the left defensive end spot on several plays while Rob Ninkovich replaced Jones.

Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise for Cunningham's development in the offseason and training camp. Last week, the Patriots head coach said of Cunningham, "Hes certainly making the most of a lot of opportunities and whatever opportunities hes had, hes earned; they havent been given to him. Hes earned them through his work ethic, performance and production. The harder you work, the more you produce, the more opportunities you get. Thats pro sports. Thats pro football."

The Patriots have now had three players busted by the league for performance enhancers this season -- Cunningham, running back Brandon Bolden and corner Aqib Talib, who tested positive while with the Buccaners.

The NFL does not say which substance was ingested.

Haggerty: Marchand signing is Bruins' biggest win in years

Haggerty: Marchand signing is Bruins' biggest win in years

BOSTON -- It’s no understatement to say that Brad Marchand's eight-year, $49 million contract extension is one of the Don Sweeney's and Cam Neely's biggest recent victories.

It’s also undoubtedly a big win for Marchand: He gets what he wants; i.e., staying with a Bruins team that drafted and developed him from a rookie fourth liner into an impactful 37-goal scorer over the last six seasons.

“Boston has become my second home. I absolutely love it there. I’m very excited about what’s ahead for our team,” said Marchand to reporters in Toronto, where he's still representing Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey. “I really believe in our team and our group and what we’re working towards. It’s a place that I’m very excited about being for the next number of years and potentially my whole career.

“We’ll talk more about everything after the tournament, but for now I just want to thank everyone who’s involved in the negotiations, my agent, and their team. I’m just very happy that everything’s done now and we can move forward.”

Marchand, 28, clearly gave the B's a hometown discount. Had he gone to free agency, he probably could have gotten $1 million more per season than the $6.125 million average annual value of the deal he agreed to.

As for the Bruins, they were able to lock up one of their most important core players for the balance of his career.

Marchand scored a career-high 37 goals and 60 points last season and is continuing his ascendency toward elite player status by tearing up the World Cup of Hockey this month on a line with Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron. The threat of him being wooed to Pittsburgh by Crosby, a fellow Nova Scotian, could have been very real had the Bruins dragged their feet in negotiations. But that wasn’t the tenor of the talks.

Let’s be honest: The way things have gone the last couple of years, it was very easy to envision the Bruins massively overpaying Marchand, given his expected value as a free agent. Or seeing Marchand and his agent, Wade Arnott, stringing them along before jumping to the highest bidder with the B’s left holding nothing, as was the case with Loui Eriksson.

Instead, Sweeney and Neely closed the deal . . . and at a team-reasonable rate. For that they deserve the kind of credit they haven’t enjoyed much of over the last couple of years as they've essentially dismantled an aging former Cup team while still trying to stay playoff-caliber.

“You’re going to have [free-agent defections] at every team," said Sweeney. "There will be [exiting] players. That’s just the way the league is built, parity, and being able to fit people in and out depending on how their roles are, and what you have in the pipeline to be able to take the place of players that are going to depart. That’s just forces of nature of the league itself.

“[But the] motivation was there from the get-go to try and find a deal with Brad . . . [You] realize that other players have left and the opportunity could be out there for him, and he’s very cognizant. He makes you very cognizant of it when you’re going through it.

“It’s a process that takes a long time to get through things. Great communication with their representatives -- with Brad’s representatives -- and it just felt like we would try and get to a good end point. The timing was obviously hard on Brad today, wanting to focus on the World Cup but, when you have a chance to get to the finish line you have to cross it. But it’s rightfully so not to take any attention away from what he’s doing right now because it’s important to him, but as was the contract to have it in place for all the parties. We got to the finish line and it’s really good for Brad and it’s really good for the Boston Bruins.”

It’s true Marchand might be a much different player by the time he’s 35 or 36 at the end of the deal. But it’s also true that a rising NHL salary cap will make this contract much more palatable as the years go by. The duo of Bergeron/Marchand is the most important, meaningful asset the Bruins have, and they needed to keep them together as a scoring, defending and special-teams threat every time they take the ice.

Marchand might not ever score 37 goals again like he did last season, but it’s no stretch to expect him to be around 30 or the foreseeable future. He has more short-handed goals than any other NHL player since joining the league in 2010-11, and the attitude and charisma he plays with on the ice is the kind of things that puts butts in seats.

Those players get paid and they get teams into bidding wars in the rare instances that they make it all the way to unrestricted free agency. So the Bruins scored a big victory in not allowing it to get to that point with a homegrown player who's come a long way from his early days as a detested agitator around the NHL.

C's players mull how to utilize platform as athletes for social commentary

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C's players mull how to utilize platform as athletes for social commentary

WALTHAM -- The national anthem protests by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick have had an undeniable ripple effect on professional sports teams across the country. And that includes the Boston Celtics.
 
“We as an organization know what’s going on,” said Marcus Smart. “We read and see and hear about it every day. It’s a sensitive subject for everybody.”
 
While it’s unlikely that Celtics players will do something similar to Kaepernick taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, there’s no question some are figuring out the best way to utilize their platform as athletes to express their views on current social issues.
 
“Us athletes have to take advantage of the stage we’re on,” said Jae Crowder. “Try to make a positive out it. You can’t fix negative problems with negative energy. I don’t want to do anything negative; I want to do something positive, shed light on the situation.”
 
Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and a number of professional athletes have tried to have more attention paid to recent killings of African-Americans by police officers where, based on the video footage, it appears excessive or unnecessary force was used.
 
It is a topic that has brought a wide range of responses from many in the sports world, including the dean of NBA coaches, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.
 
During the Spurs’ media day this week, he was asked about the Kaepernick’s protests.
 
“I absolutely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and I respect their courage for what they’ve done,” Popovich told reporters. “The question is whether it will do any good or not because it seems that change really seems to happen through political pressure, no matter how you look at it.”
 
As examples of the political pressure he was referring to, Popovich mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ability to galvanize group, as well as the NBA and other organizations pulling their events out of the state of North Carolina because of its legislation as it relates to the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
 
“The important thing that Kaepernick and others have done is keep it in the conversation,” Popovich said.
 
And while there may be differing opinions as to whether Kaepernick or any other athlete should be protesting, the one common thread that seems to bind the Celtics players and the front office is them having the right to speak out not only as professional athletes, but Americans.
 
“The biggest thing is we all really value the freedoms that we have and that we’ve been allotted,” said coach Brad Stevens, who added that he has had individual discussions with players on this subject. “We certainly support an individual’s freedoms. It’s been great to engage in those discussions. It’s been really fun for me how excited our guys are about using their platform.”
 
And that more than anything else is why Crowder feels the Celtics have to have a united front as far as the message they present to the masses.
 
“If we want change we have to do it together,” Crowder said. “I feel like those guys (other athletes) used their platforms well. I think more athletes should do the same. You can’t do it with any hatred; you can’t do it with any negative. You have to do it with positive energy.”