September 25, 2017 12:22 PM

Amid rising tensions between President Trump and the National Football League, a meme saying NFL players only started appearing on the field for the national anthem in 2009 — after they were paid to do so by the government — is making the rounds on social media. But is it accurate?

According to the widely circulated image, players stayed in locker rooms during the anthem for games prior to 2009, when the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Guard began paying the NFL millions of dollars to hold patriotic displays.

The fact-checking website looked into the meme and determined that while it is true NFL players were not required to be on the field for the national anthem before 2009, they have always had the option to stand on the sidelines during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Tom E. Curran of Comcast Sportsnet New England reported in August 2016 that teams appearing on the field for the national anthem was a relatively recent development in the NFL.

Curran said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed the practice began in 2009 and added, “As you know, the NFL has a long tradition of patriotism. Players are encouraged but not required to stand for the anthem.”

In 2015, Sen. John McCain and Sen. John Flake released a joint oversight report on what they called the “paid patriotism,” saying the Department of Defense gave as much as $6.8 million in taxpayer money to professional sports teams to honor the military at games and events over the past four years. McCain criticized the move in a statement at the time, saying, “Fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service, not as a marketing ploy.”

The national anthem meme was shared on Sunday by Jewel Smith, the wife of Cleveland Cavaliers star J.R. Smith, who has also spoken out against Trump. After the president’s controversial comments calling on the NFL to fire the “son of a bitch” players who kneel in protest against the anthem, Smith tweeted: “@BarackObama we need you back ASAP.”

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