On April 19 2023, a Reddit user shared a post about a Tennessee child’s “homemade” shirt to the subreddit r/wholesomememes:
An appended image appeared to show a social media post with text and three images. Elements such as the date were cropped out; the text of the post read:
A child in Tennessee got bullied for his homemade University of Tennessee t-shirt, so the university made it their official shirt! The entire band wore it, and they sold over 50,000 shirts! To top that, they gave the child a 4-year scholarship!
We found a nearly identical April 9 2023 tweet from the account @goodnewsdog. It contained the same basic text shared to Reddit (with some minor variations), but the images were the same:
While the wording was different, the claim was the same. Each post asserted that a boy in Tennessee was bullied because of a “homemade” University of Tennessee t-shirt, that the University adopted it as “their official shirt,” and that the boy received a “four year scholarship”; neither post linked to anything corroborating the claims.
Another variation appeared on Reddit’s r/MadeMeSmile in September 2021, titled “A Child in Tennessee got made fun of for his homemade University of Tennessee tee, so UT made it their official shirt! The entire band is wearing it and they sold 16,000 shirts! To top that, they gave the Child a 4 year scholarship. Great job U of Tennessee”:
In the 2021 version, the meme referenced 16,000 shirts. A version was shared to Facebook on September 14 2019, which said:
Kid in Tennessee got made fun of for his homemade university of Tennessee t-shirt, so UT made it their official shirt, the entire band is wearing and they sold 16,000 shirts. To top that the gave the kid a 4 year scholarship also. Great job U of Tennessee!
On September 9 2019, CNN.com published “He was bullied for his homemade University of Tennessee T-shirt. The school just made it an official design.” CNN.com cited a Florida teacher’s since-edited Facebook post from September 4 2019.
Originally, the post read:
Last week [in 2019], my elementary school participated in college colors day. When I told my students about this day a week before, this particular child came to me and told me that he wanted to wear a University of Tennessee shirt, but he didn’t have one. We discussed that he could wear an orange shirt to show his spirit. He told me every day leading up to it that he had an orange shirt that he was going to wear. So when the day finally arrived, he was SO EXCITED to show me his shirt. I was impressed that he took it one step further to make his own label. After lunch, he came back to my room, put his head on on his desk and was crying. Some girls at the lunch table next to his (who didn’t even participate in college colors day) had made fun of his sign that he had attached to his shirt. He was DEVASTATED. I know kids can be cruel, I am aware that it’s not the fanciest sign, BUT this kid used the resources he had available to him to participate in a spirit day (one that I celebrated all week: Go Noles)! I plan to get him a University of Tennessee shirt, but was wondering if anyone has any connections to the University of Tennessee. I wanted to make it a little extra special for him. If anyone has any contacts that they’d be willing to share, please let me know. Thanks!
After quoting the post, the outlet added:
In hopes of raising [the boy’s] spirits, [teacher Laura] Snyder said she planned on buying him an official University of Tennessee T-shirt, and asked friends if they had contacts with the school who could “make it a little extra special for him.”
By Thursday [September 5 2019], her Facebook post had gone viral among Vols fans, with lots of people leaving supportive comments. And it wasn’t long before the University of Tennessee reached out wanting to send the student a care package full of swag and apparel.
“You all have taken this above and beyond what I had ever imagined,” wrote Snyder.
Synder updated the Facebook post on Friday [September 6 2019] to let everyone know how excited the student was to receive the care package.
According to CNN.com, “[demand] for the student’s T-shirt was so high on Saturday [September 7 2019] that it crashed University of Tennessee’s online shop.” A tweet by @UTKnoxville from September 6 2019 was embedded, demonstrating that the boy’s design was indeed manufactured and sold:
On September 11 2019, People.com published “University of Tennessee Has Already Sold More Than 16,000 Shirts Featuring Bullied Boy’s Design,” providing a source for the claim 16,000 shirts were sold. A September 17 2019 ABC News article‘s headline validated that the boy was offered a scholarship: “University of Tennessee offers boy 4-year scholarship after viral T-shirt.”
ABC referenced a press release about the viral shirt, which indicated that 50,000 shirts had been pre-ordered at the time of publication. A copy of the press release accessed on April 20 2023 included an update about the number of shirts sold:
*UPDATE: As of September 25 , the VolShop has received more than 100,000 orders for the T-shirt.*
The University of Tennessee is lighting the way for the young Vol fan who made his own UT T-shirt.
T-shirts on pressIn recognition of the fourth-grader’s Volunteer spirit, the university has extended an offer of honorary admission for him to join the Class of 2032. In addition, he has been awarded a four-year scholarship covering his tuition and fees beginning fall 2028 should he decide to attend UT and meet admission requirements.
Alumni, fans, and honorary Volunteers have stepped up in response to this story. So far, more than 50,000 shirts featuring the boy’s design have been pre-sold by the VolShop. All proceeds from the sale of the shirts will go directly to the charity Stomp Out Bullying. The university will cover the cost of the scholarship separately. Orders will begin shipping later this month.
University officials have spoken several times with the boy’s mother, who has expressed gratitude to the university and said the family has been deeply touched by the overwhelming outpouring from people around the world.
On December 11 2019, the University of Tennessee Knoxville issued another press release, “Shirt Designed by Fourth Grader Raises Nearly $1M for STOMP Out Bullying.” It provided an update on shirt sales and funds raised, adding that the shirt was “no longer being produced”:
Sales of a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, T-shirt designed by a fourth-grade boy in Florida raised $952,101 for STOMP Out Bullying.
The young fan created the homemade shirt to show his love for the Volunteers. UT’s VolShop offered to print the boy’s design for him as a gesture of appreciation.
The response was overwhelming and far exceeded expectations. The VolShop sold 112,715 shirts for $14.99 per shirt in the three months they were made available. The official version of the shirt is no longer being produced.
The boy and his family requested that proceeds from the shirt be donated to an organization dedicated to the prevention of bullying. All proceeds from the university’s sale of the shirt—approximately $8.45 per shirt—will go to benefit STOMP Out Bullying.
On December 16 2019, the shirt was mentioned in an end-of-year recap:
The T-shirt heard around the world: The story of a young Vol fan who made his own UT T-shirt was covered by media across the world and launched a flood of support for antibullying education. In recognition of the fourth grader’s Volunteer spirit, the university extended an offer of honorary admission for him to join the class of 2032. In addition, he has been awarded a four-year scholarship covering his tuition and fees beginning fall 2028 if he decides to attend UT and meets admission requirements.
A popular April 19 2023 post to Reddit’s r/wholesomememes relayed the story of a boy who was bullied over a homemade University of Tennessee shirt. The same story spread on Twitter in early April 2019. The claims were accurate, and the incident largely occurred in September 2019. After the story initially went viral, the boy was offered a scholarship to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As of December 2019, 112,715 shirts were sold.