The hashtag #TakeAKnee – and variations like #TakeTheKnee, #TakesAKnee and #TakeAKneeNFL, which show solidarity with NFL players protesting the National Anthem – were used more than 1.6m times in the past week – including 1.53m mentions in the last three days.
That’s according to social media monitoring firm Brandwatch, which noted the most recent New York Fashion Week, which is an inherently social event, generated only 755,000 mentions on Twitter and Instagram over eight days.
In addition, Brandwatch said #TakeAKnee has accumulated more than 3bn impressions -- and #TakeTheKnee has more than 1.6bn.
By way of comparison, social media analytics firm Talkwalker found there were more than 4m social posts “related to the NFL and the National Anthem,” including 2.4m with #TakeAKnee and 1.2m with #TakeTheKnee.
Brandwatch said the sentiment of these tweets is 75.3% negative – because in large part the mentions focus on Donald Trump.
And that, in turn, is because in a speech on Friday, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Trump then reinforced his point on Twitter:
If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
The flag brouhaha started last summer when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media at the time. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
The 49ers were supportive, saying, "In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."
A few months later, however, Kaepernick and the 49ers parted ways. He remains unsigned, which prompted a protest at the NFL headquarters in New York earlier this month. Since then, the protests have widened considerably, with the NFL itself, owners and management chiming in. And, most visibly, NFL players and owners participating in protests on Sunday (September 24) — including the entire 53-man rosters of both the Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans opting not to take the field for the anthem.
Notably, Brandwatch said it could not find “any brand that partook in the use of any of the searched for hashtags” as brands likely thought it best to stay out of such a “ragingly divided conversation.” “Some are calling for an NFL boycott and brands don’t want to attract the same type of attention,” a rep said. “The only brands that I saw using the hashtags were media outlets reporting on the events and civil rights non-profits like Amnesty International.”
It’s also worth noting not all mentions are supportive. Brandwatch noted “many” mentions come from people who are angry with the disrespect of some of the players and say they will no longer watch football. In fact, Brandwatch said #NFL is the third-most relevant hashtag in this conversation, followed by #BoycottNFL. Talkwalker said this was one of the most popular tweets supporting those who weren't protesting:
I respect ex-Army Ranger Steelers' Villanueva! He stood for #NationalAnthem as rest of team did not! #TakeTheKneehttps://t.co/FunmL6nSEB — Wayne Dupree (@WayneDupreeShow) September 24, 2017
TalkWalker also said the top trending teams included #Steelers with 11,065 mentions – and the top social post was from widow Katie Hubbard:
My husband died for your right to #TakeAKnee. He would have supported you; I support you. Sincerely, a military widow.
— Katie Hubbard (@Khubbard991) September 23, 2017
Other top tweets, per social media analytics firms, include:
Celebrities were less shy than brands, making their support known, like:
I am taking a knee on Sunday. I might need someone to help me up. #TakeAKnee
— Ed Asner (@TheOnlyEdAsner) September 23, 2017
In addition, actress Zendaya retweeted:
Author J.K. Rowling retweeted:
Donald Trump has managed the truly impossible. He has made British people interested in American football #TakeTheKnee
— Sathnam Sanghera (@Sathnam) September 24, 2017
And singer John Legend retweeted:
L: "Very fine people" R: "Sons of bitches"#TakeAKneepic.twitter.com/GOwZmzo8CF — Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) September 23, 2017
Another anti-Trump tweet that generated a lot of attention this weekend was from NBA player LeBron James:
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
It has more than 1.4m likes and 652,000 retweets. By way of comparison, Brandwatch said Trump’s most retweeted tweet from the past week has 64,000 retweets and 209,000 likes.