Sunday, 23 September 2018, saw the third major round of games in the National Football League's 2018 season. Against the background of an ongoing controversy over the decision by some players and staff to protest against racial injustice during the playing of the national anthem, one notorious junk news web site sought to make hay, publishing no fewer than seven entirely false protest-related stories that day.
America's Last Line of Defense posted fabricated stories which claimed that: the Federal Communications Commission had fined the NFL because Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receiver Antonio Brown had knelt during the anthem; that white and black Buffalo Bills players had had a locker room brawl over the anthem protests; that a fictional black Pittsburgh Steelers player named "Jude Black" (described in the article as a "kneeling thug") had attacked a referee after receiving a penalty for protesting during the national anthem; that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichek had fined another fictional black player ("Tyrone Blackman") for kneeling; that Patriots owner Robert Kraft had personally walked onto the field of play and fired two of his players for not standing during the anthem; and that the Dallas Cowboys had demoted players who kneeled during the anthem the previous week.
However, the article which prompted the most queries from our readers and was the most shared on Facebook was one that claimed Denver Broncos general manager John Elway had walked on to the field before the team's game against the Baltimore Ravens and personally fired three players who disobeyed an order not to kneel during the anthem.
Under the headline "BREAKING: Broncos VP John Elway Storms Field, Fires 3 Kneeling Players on the Spot," the article stated:
According to sources inside the locker room, The Denver Broncos were brought together for a “policy meeting” on Wednesday of last week with none other than legendary quarterback John Elway. Elway, now VP of Football Operations for the franchise, made his decision on the subject very clear.
“There will be no kneeling during the national anthem in this stadium. I don’t care what your beliefs aree [sic]. You’re at work and your antics are costing us money. Don’t do it.”
Elway took the politics out of it and went right for what counts: the money. After giving them the choice, three players have stated all week that they will kneel regardless of the consequences. Mavius Malphner said he’ll follow in the footsteps of his “current hero,” Colin Kaepernick: “Do what you believe, right? Kap has the idea. I’ll do what I want. What are they gonna do, fire me?”
Unfortunately for Malphner and two other teammates, Ladamian Brown and DeShaq Darq, Elway was waiting just inside the tunnel for the anthem to start. When he saw the players kneeling, he made his way across the field. Commentator Troy Aikman called the action:
“It looks like Elway is headed directly towards the kneeling…oh…he just gave them the ejection signal. I think he just fired those three players for standing up for what they believe in. Wow. That is not the John Elway I know.”
None of these events took place. The Broncos have no players named Mavius Malphner, Ladamian Brown, or DeShaq Darq. Like everything published by America's Last Line of Defense, the article is fake.
However, some readers mistakenly believed it to be authentic, as demonstrated by the many earnest comments on the Facebook page of America's Last Line of Defense.
That Facebook page and website (currently operating at the URL "trumpbetrayed.us") are part of a network of junk news sites that engage in political trolling, much of it racially-charged and inflammatory, presented as "satire."