Garth Brooks looks back on Barry Sanders jersey flap: ‘All it did was magnify ignorance’

Detroit Free Press

Brian McCollum
| Detroit Free Press

Garth Brooks says a tweet from Barry Sanders helped make a difficult situation a little easier to laugh about.

First a recap: Back in February, the mood was celebratory when Brooks wrapped up a show for a record-setting Ford Field crowd. And then the social-media weirdness hit.

To the delight of concertgoers inside the Detroit Lions’ stadium, the country superstar had performed in a jersey marked “SANDERS 20” — a tribute to the retired Lions running back, an NFL Hall of Famer and fellow Oklahoma State University product.

On social media that night, Brooks posted a photo of himself backstage, the “SANDERS” and “20” big and emphatic. That’s when the frenzy flared up. Many fans, presumably from outside Michigan, misinterpreted the message, reading the photo as an endorsement of Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders — right in the heat of the 2020 primaries.

MoreGarth Brooks looks back on challenging 2020, months after Ford Field

Their confused reactions were swift and strong, accusing the veteran country artist of being a hypocrite millionaire socialist, calling him out of touch, even vowing to throw out Brooks’ music. The viral brouhaha made national headlines.

Nine months later, talking with the Detroit Free Press this week amid the release of his album “Fun,” Brooks said he’s not eager to revisit the incident. But he said enough to make his feelings clear.

“Anybody who was involved with that, I don’t think would want to say one more syllable. Because all it did was magnify the ignorance, and that’s hard to take,” he said. “You’ve got one of the greatest icons (in Barry Sanders), one of the greatest legends in our life to look up to, who wore that jersey on that field — and people think it’s a political statement.”

As for his reluctance to elaborate much on the flap, he continued: “I’ve just got to say, when it comes to people making an ass out of themselves, I don’t think you want to add to that. I’ve made an ass out of myself 1,000 times, and I don’t need anybody helping me.”

The silver lining, Brooks said, came when Barry Sanders himself piped up during the commotion, tweeting: “Hey @garthbrooks, want to be my VP? #Number20for2020”

“I laughed my ass off,” Brooks said. “I just love him.”

The two iconic stars, it turns out, are well acquainted. Having spent time with Sanders at football games and other events, he knows the NFL great is a quiet guy: “I don’t think he said three words,” Brooks laughed.

“But what I love about him is that he’s a dry funny. A lot of people don’t know he’s funny,” Brooks said. “That one little tweet made everything just hilarious for me. It kind of gave me the bigger picture of him.”

Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or

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