The claim: Tim Tebow is wearing No. 85 to honor former teammate Aaron Hernandez
Amid reports of Tim Tebow signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars to play tight end, viral social media posts surfaced claiming the former quarterback is wearing No. 85 to honor former teammate Aaron Hernandez, who died in 2017 while serving life in prison for murder.
In 2015, Hernandez, a former New England Patriots tight end, was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his friend Odin Lloyd two years prior. Days after Hernandez was found not guilty for the murder of two more men in 2012, he was found dead on April 19, 2017. His death was ruled a suicide.
Tebow and Hernandez played for the Florida Gators and won a national championship together in 2008 under now-Jaguars coach Urban Meyer. Tebow’s return to the NFL has sparked controversy and misinformation online.
Claims of Tebow wearing No. 85 to honor Hernandez appeared after videos showed him wearing the jersey number during offseason workouts in May.
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“Tim Tebow says he is wearing #85 to honor (h)is former friend/teammate and fellow TE Aaron Hernandez, who passed away in 2017. Respect,” reads a June 2 Facebook post from the page Old Row Sports.
The post has more than 18,000 reactions. An Instagram page called Athlete Dynasty shared a similar version of the claim in a May 29 post with more than 8,000 likes.
But Tebow is not wearing No. 85 to honor Hernandez. The claim comes from a parody Twitter account that has previously published misinformation in an attempt to dupe sports commentators. No. 85 is a typical number for tight ends, and Tebow may change his number back to No. 15, according to news reports.
Old Row Sports and Athlete Dynasty did not return USA TODAY’s requests for comment.
Claim originates from parody Twitter account
It’s true Tebow was seen wearing No. 85 during offseason workouts with the Jaguars, but there’s no evidence he’s wearing that number to honor Hernandez.
The primary source of this claim is the Twitter parody account “Barry McCockiner.” According to Fox Sports Radio, accounts under that name frequently share false information, and sports news commentators, including NFL insider Peter King, have previously fallen for his made-up claims.
McCockiner has previously changed his Twitter name to famous sports reporters like NFL insider Ian Rapoport. Some of his old accounts have been suspended for impersonating NFL news breakers.
Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Tim Tebow runs on the field during an NFL football team practice, Thursday, May 27, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Photo: The Associated Press)
McCockiner shared the Tebow jersey claim on May 20 in a post with more than 10,000 likes. In an additional tweet, he quoted Tebow as supposedly saying, “I understand Aaron killed people, but as long as he said he was sorry for it, that’s good enough for me.”
The additional tweet then presents a link to what is introduced as “Tim Tebow’s exclusive interview about his number decision.” It’s actually a May 2020 YouTube video about Michael Jordan.
The video, titled, “Top 10 Defenders Michael Jordan Played Against,” makes no mention of Tebow, and it was released more than a year ago, before Tebow returned to football. The link is a running joke, as it is also included in McCockiner’s bio, as well as similartweets claiming to be “exclusive interviews” with other athletes.
The last report USA TODAY could find of Tebow speaking publicly about Hernandez was in 2013, when he called the murder charge “heartbreaking and sad” and said he was told “not to talk about it” due to the ongoing legal investigation.
It’s unclear how long Tebow will wear No. 85.
“New #Jaguars TE Tim Tebow will be wearing jersey number 85 today. That could change, but that’s his number for today,” Rapoport tweeted May 20.
Tebow wore No. 15 with the Florida Gators and the Denver Broncos, but that number is currently taken by Jaguars quarterback Garden Minshew. Tebow’s number could change if the Jaguars trade or release Minshew, according to NBC Sports.
It is also worth noting that No. 85 is a typical number for a tight end, per FanNation. Tebow’s May 20 statement on signing with the Jaguars makes no mention of wearing the number to honor Hernandez.
USA TODAY reached out to the Jaguars for comment.
Our rating: False
The claim that Tebow is wearing No. 85 to honor Hernandez is FALSE, based on our research. The claim originated from a parody Twitter account that frequently shares false information to deceive sports commentators and insiders. The user provided no evidence to support the claim, and tight ends typical wear No. 85.
Our fact-check sources:
- News4JAX, May 20, tweet
- Fox Sports Radio, Aug, 19, 2019, Fake Ian Rapoport Twitter Account Wreaking Havoc in NFL News Cycles
- Peter King, Aug. 18, 2019, tweet
- @DocMcCockiner, accessed June 5, Twitter
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 19, 2019, Fake Antonio Brown report dupes a handful of sports reporters, including NBC’s Peter King
- Barry McCockiner, May 20, tweet
- Barry McCockiner, May 20, tweet
- YouTube, May 14, 2020, Top 10 Defenders Michael Jordan Played Against
- Barry McCockiner, May 15, tweet
- Barry McCockiner, March 23, tweet
- USA TODAY, July 26, 2013, Tim Tebow calls Hernandez murder case ‘heartbreaking,’ defends Meyer
- Ian Rapoport, May 20, tweet
- ESPN, May 21, Tim Tebow has another top-selling jersey with Jacksonville Jaguars’ No. 85
- NBC Sports, May 20, Tim Tebow to wear No. 85, for now
- FanNation, May 20, Tebow Time: Jaguars’ Newest Tight End To Wear No. 85
- Jacksonville Jaguars, May 20, Official: Jaguars sign tight end Tim Tebow
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