In the wake of Seahawks safety Earl Thomas' already-infamous middle finger salute last Sunday, here are the most memorable middle fingers both in Seattle sports and nationwide.
Earl Thomas’ last act as a Seahawk might have been to flip the bird.
In doing so, the disgruntled ninth-year safety — who raised a defiant middle finger toward the Seahawks’ sideline while being carted off the field with a broken left tibia last Sunday — also added to a not-so-proud Seattle sports tradition.
Of course, let’s give credit — if you want to call it that — where credit is due. The gesture reportedly dates all the way to Athens in the fourth century BC, when the philosopher Diogenes used the most disrespectful digit to express his disapproval with the orator Demosthenes.
(It’s unclear whether Diogenes had also sought a lucrative contract extension.)
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Whether in Athens or Seattle, the bird continues to serve as a powerful communicator. Take 2016, for example. During a 26-15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, then-Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called a wide-receiver pass in the red zone from Doug Baldwin to quarterback Russell Wilson. Baldwin completed the pass for a 15-yard touchdown, but before he did, the Seahawks’ standout receiver flashed his middle finger — which the Romans referred to as “digitus impudicus,” or “the shameless, impudent or offensive finger” — in Bevell’s general direction.
The indecent display earned Baldwin a $12,154 fine from the NFL.
“I’m sure you guys know now we have been begging for that play for a couple of weeks now, trying to get that done,” Baldwin later explained. “However, I didn’t want it (to be called) in the red zone. I wanted the target in the red zone.”
Added Bevell: “I think Doug, in his excitement, when he heard the play called in the huddle and knowing that he was going to get an opportunity to make Seahawk history, he was really excited and he wanted to tell Bev he was No. 1, and he just messed up a little bit there.”
In that case, Baldwin isn’t the only former Seahawk to hold Bevell in such high esteem. In 2013, during a 34-22 win, running back Marshawn Lynch careened inside the Arizona Cardinals’ 1-yard line for a 5-yard gain. Instead of feeding “Beast Mode” again, however, the Seahawks opted for a play-action pass, and Wilson promptly tossed a touchdown to tight end Kellen Davis.
Upon hearing the play call and breaking the huddle, however, Lynch expressed his displeasure — via a single digit — with the Seattle sideline.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the last controversial case of the Seahawks calling a pass play from the 1-yard line instead of handing the ball to Lynch.
But, to be clear, the middle finger also transcends football. Shortly after signing with the Seattle Mariners, embattled outfielder Milton Bradley made the following statement to The Associated Press in March 2010: “If I was a musician, I’d be Kanye West. If I was in the NBA, I’d be Ron Artest. In baseball, they’ve got Milton Bradley. I’m that guy.
“You need people like me, so you can point your finger and go, ‘There goes the bad guy.’ “
Two weeks later, Bradley pointed a finger of his own. After catching a fly ball in the fourth inning of a 1-1 game against the Texas Rangers, the 31-year-old outfielder not-so-subtly flipped off the local fans.
Bradley hit .205 that season and .218 in 28 games with the Mariners in 2011. “The bad guy” was never heard from in the major leagues again.
But fear not, Seattle sports fans. The middle finger has also been employed by athletes outside the Emerald City.
Behold (if you dare), five of the more memorable middle fingers in the history of pro sports.
Pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, Boston Beaneaters, 1886.
Radbourn’s middle finger will never be forgotten.
That’s because this one was first.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the first known occurrence of a middle-finger flip captured in a photograph occurred on opening day of the 1886 baseball season, at New York’s Polo Grounds. Radbourn — with his cap pulled low over his head and a handlebar mustache massaging his mischievous features — posed for a team portrait by placing his right hand on a teammate’s shoulder, and emphatically flipping the bird with his left.
Radbourn was not only a rebel, but a repeat offender. A year later, he subtly extended the same middle finger, with his hands on his hips, on a widely distributed Old Judge Tobacco baseball card.
While the impetus behind Old Hoss’ digitus impudicus is unknown, his rapidly deteriorating results might be a reason. The workhorse pitcher won a whopping 59 games in 1884, but he never managed half that in the remaining seven seasons of his career. The 1886 season, which began with a middle finger, ended with Radbourn turning in a disappointing 27-31 record.
Still, “Old Hoss” was eventually vindicated. The right-handed pitcher and bird-flip pioneer was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939.
Running back Larry Csonka, Miami Dolphins, 1972
Csonka’s middle finger made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
More specifically, Csonka and fellow Dolphins running back Jim Kiick made the cover together in 1972. In the photo, the backfield-mates are laughing, with Csonka sitting against a goalpost and staring dreamily into the distance.
The headline reads, “Kiick and Csonka: Miami’s dynamic duo.”
Still, Kiick’s presence was overshadowed by Csonka’s right middle finger, which he placed not-so-subtly on his left leg, directly facing the camera.
In an interview with phinphanatic.com in 2008, Csonka — a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame — explained that the photo “was made in jest for my private use via an agreement with the photographer,” and was never meant to be in contention for the cover.
And yet, the photo ran and the Dolphins promptly delivered the only undefeated season in NFL history.
Coincidence? You decide.
Pitcher Jack McDowell, New York Yankees, 1995
Jack McDowell wasn’t the first or last professional athlete to flip off his own fans.
Plenty of people have done it. But “Black Jack” did it best.
As he exited the mound at Yankee Stadium after a particularly rough outing in 1995, awash in a sea of boos, McDowell “thrust his middle finger high in the air and twirled it around for all to see,” according to The Associated Press.
Poetically, the headline of the next day’s New York Post read simply: “Yankee Flipper.”
McDowell is far from alone. Red Sox reliever Byung-Hyun Kim flipped off his own fans during player introductions after they booed him for blowing a previous lead in a playoff series against the A’s in 2003. Three years later, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick raised both middle fingers to the Georgia Dome faithful after a 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Their feelings might have been best summarized by Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, who casually flipped off the home fans after throwing a first-quarter interception in an eventual win over the Dolphins in 2004.
“I’m not a robot,” Plummer said, per ESPN. “I’m a man that has warm blood, and sometimes it gets hot in there running through my veins.”
Outfielder Jose Canseco, Toronto Blue Jays, 1998
There isn’t anything remarkable about the photo, which shows Canseco stifling a smile as he flips off a camera in 1998.
In this instance, though, the magnificence comes in the aftermath.
In a moment of karmic magic, Canseco — the noted home-run hitter and steroid user — accidentally blew off the very same finger while cleaning a gun in October 2014.
On his left hand, at least, Canseco has flipped his final bird.
Owner Bud Adams, Tennessee Titans, 2009
On Nov. 15, 2009, Bud Adams flipped the most expensive bird in the history of professional sports.
To celebrate the Tennessee Titans’ 41-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills, the 86-year-old owner stood proudly in his luxury suite and presented his right middle finger, and then his left, and then his right again, and then both at once. This was a dance involving both of his middle digits. He unleashed a frantic flurry of middle fingers on an unsuspecting world.
Unsurprisingly, he was fined $250,000 for conduct detrimental to the league.
But maybe the best perspective comes from former Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was asked about Adams’ actions.
“I don’t know if he did it, but I condone fun things,” Finnegan said, according to The Tennessean and ESPN. “If he was having fun doing it, then by all means, do what you do.”