Q: Did the NFL fine players who protested during the national anthem? Was a player fired for it? Are some players asking the league to host a month of anti-police activism? Will Fox Sports stop airing NFL games?
A: No. Three of those stories were made-up, and one is a gross misrepresentation.
Facebook has been flush with stories about the National Football League since President Donald Trump called on team owners to fire any player who “disrespects our flag” by making political demonstrations on the field during the national anthem.
The president’s appeal drew criticism from the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell — who called for a “sense of unity” — and various teams and players, who mostly either locked arms, took a knee or stayed off the field as the anthem played prior to games on Sept. 24 and 25.
However, several of the stories that have been circulated widely, and flagged as potentially fake news on Facebook, are not true.
Claim: The NFL fined Steelers players who weren’t on the sidelines for the anthem.
More than a dozen websites posted a bogus story claiming the league fined the Pittsburgh Steelers $1 million for every player who wasn’t present for the national anthem.
Prior to the game against the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin announced that his team would remain off the field for the anthem so that players wouldn’t have to decide whether to stand or take a knee.
“It was a bad decision,” says the story that originated at thelastlineofdefense.org. “NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who donated to Donald Trump’s election campaign, announced shortly after the game began that every player who ‘protested’ the National Anthem and showed ‘immense disrespect to our nation’ would be fined a cool million dollars.”
However, no such fine has been imposed, Brian McCarthy, vice president for corporate communications at the NFL, confirmed to FactCheck.org. Goodell also didn’t contribute to Trump’s presidential campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The story was completely fabricated.
A disclaimer on the thelastlineofdefense.org says: “America’s Last Line of Defense is a satirical publication that may sometimes appear to be telling the truth. We assure you that’s not the case. We present fiction as fact and our sources don’t actually exist.”
Claim: A group of NFL players are asking the league to make November a month to protest police officers.
Some stories claim that players asked the NFL to support anti-police activism, which isn’t true.
According to a Sept. 22 post on uconservative.com: “They’re demanding an anti-police activism month because ‘police have shot over 300 men and women in this country’?!”
A memo written by four current players to Goodell and Troy Vincent, the executive vice president of NFL football operations, did say that “police have shot over 300 men and women in this country” since 2016. However, it doesn’t ask the league to engage in anti-police activism.
Instead, the memo urges the league to use November “to serve as a month of Unity for individual teams to engage and impact the community in their market.”
Specifically, that would mean addressing issues of economic growth, education and police and community relations — which would emphasize work that some players have already begun by doing ride-alongs with police, partnering with officers to participate in players’ community-related projects (like camps, events, and outreach), and town hall meetings to discuss issues facing the black community and come up with solutions.
Claim: The Cleveland Browns fired a player for kneeling during the anthem.
This fake story claims that the Cleveland Browns fired one of its linebackers for taking a knee during the national anthem.
“Jerry Haslam,” the team’s alleged owner, according to the story, is quoted saying: “I felt powerless to fire them before… But now that I know my President is behind me, I will gladly fire every player who does this, starting with [Franklin] Lewis.”
The actual statement released by the Haslams on Sept. 24 said, in part: “We must not let misguided, uninformed and divisive comments from the President or anyone else deter us from our efforts to unify. Our stance in support of the liberties of peaceful, personal expression afforded to our players and all Americans will remain strong, and we will continue to encourage our players to respectfully use their earned platform to inspire positive change in our nation and throughout society.”
Claim: Fox Sports will no longer broadcast NFL games.
Yet another self-described satirical story from thelastlineofdefense.org — which was republished by several websites without attribution — claims that Fox Sports will stop airing NFL games.
The story says that Fox Sports spokeswoman “Holly McGee” appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Sept. 24 to announce that “we are standing” with Trump and “refusing to air the games until the 12 teams who have attacked the President apologize and players who disrespect our nation are punished.” But that didn’t happen.
No one from Fox’s sports division appeared on the Sept. 24 edition of “Fox & Friends Weekend” to make such an announcement. The Fox network aired several games that Sunday, and it is still scheduled to carry multiple games each week for the remainder of the season, including seven games on Oct. 1.
Consinfo.us, one of the website’s that republished the fraudulent story, even says on its “about us” page: “Keep in mind that everything we publish is in good faith, sometimes the articles are satires and fake and we cannot make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of this information.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label viral fake news stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
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