Before the start of the 2016 NFL season, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick touched off a nationwide controversy declining to stand during the pre-game playing of the U.S. national anthem, holding that he was engaging in a form of protest that involved refusing to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” As other players around the league began picking up on Kaepernick’s protest and also “take a knee” during the playing of the anthem, rumor began to spread that entire teams might opt to do the same before games played on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
In conjunction with that event, social media users encountered a tweet supposedly issued by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, threatening teammates who were considering kneeling during playing of the U.S. national anthem:
This tweet did not appear on Harrison’s Twitter feed, however. While it was possible that he posted this message and then quickly deleted it, that scenario was unlikely: Although this image was widely shared, no one reproducing it has provided a link back to the original tweet. As well, Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem had already become a major news story, so if Harrison had truly posted such a message it would have been picked up and reported by multiple media outlets.
The most obvious reason why this message isn’t in Harrison’s Twitter feed is that it’s a fake. While creating fake tweets is an increasingly easy task, some hoaxers still just can’t seem to get it right. A real tweet would display a hashtag such as #EyesonuCK in a blue font, yet the hashtag shown here is rendered in the same color as the rest of the text.
A similar rumor was circulated in August 2017 after Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch remained seated during the National Anthem before a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. A fake news article published on the Lockerdome platform claimed that Harrison had criticized Lynch with a nearly identical quote: “Let me just say, anyone on my team sitting for the Anthem better be in a wheelchair. That’s the only excuse.” But again, this was not a genuine quote from Harrison.