The anti-bullying video of a Union County middle schooler went viral over the weekend, garnering the attention of the Tennessee Titans and the University of Tennessee Vols football teams.
Kimberly Jones posted the video of her son, Keaton, on her Facebook page Friday shortly after 12:30 p.m. She said she had just picked Keaton up from school because he was too afraid to go to lunch as a result of bullying.
Despite some other media reports, Keaton is not a student in Knox County, according to Carly Harrington, Knox County Schools spokesperson. Rather, he attends Horace Maynard Middle School in Maynardville, in Union County. He used to attend Knox County but left in July 2017, according to Harrington.
"For the record, Keaton asked to do this AFTER he had me pick him up AGAIN because he was afraid to go to lunch," Jones wrote in her Facebook post.
"My kids are by no stretch perfect, and at home, he's as all boy as they come, but by all accounts he's good at school. Talk to your kids. I've even had friends of mine tell me (their) kids were only nice to him to get him to mess with people. We all know how it feels to want to belong, but only a select few know how it really feels not to belong anywhere," she wrote.
In the video, Keaton, crying in the passenger seat, describes having milk poured on him and ham put down his clothes.
"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What's the point of it?" Keaton began. "Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to 'em? It's not okay."
Keaton said kids at school make fun of his nose, call him ugly and tell him he has no friends.
Jones, in another social media post on Oct. 18, described one such incident. At a birthday party, she wrote, another boy said he knew Keaton by his scars, one that "goes all the way across his face."
Jones wrote that her son was born with a tumor.
"It's not OK!" Keaton cried in his video. "People that are different don't need to be criticized about it. It's not their fault. But if you are made fun of, don't let it bother you. They suck I guess. Hard. But it will probably get better one day."
Within hours, the post had thousands of views. By Saturday night it had been viewed more than 11 million times and shared by nearly 250,000 people.
Vols, Titans get involved
University of Tennessee Vols sophomore wide receiver Tyler Byrd saw the video and tweeted Saturday afternoon that he and several teammates are planning to pay Keaton a visit at school Tuesday.
Shortly thereafter, Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker posted a video of himself reading a quote by Guatama Buddha.
"Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves,” he read, before adding, "You can be whoever you want to be. Sorry that bullying has been taking place at your school. Hopefully this video and all the tweets that are being put out there make awareness to stop bullying."
Then he extended an invitation to Keaton and his family to join him at the Dec. 31 Titans vs. Jaguars game.
Sentiments from other football players connected to Tennessee followed, offering words of support to Keaton.
Kelsea Ballerini, Dale Earnhard Jr. share messages of support
Country singer Kelsea Ballerini, who grew up in Knoxville, said she would walk into the lunchroom with Keaton and "watch the bullies say they are sorry to you."
Retired race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in a tweet that the video was heartbreaking and that Keaton could add him to his list of friends.
Singer Enrique Iglesias and CNN anchor Christopher Cuomo also sent out messages of support for Keaton and outrage that such bullying could happen:
In a Saturday afternoon Facebook post, Jones responded to the outpouring of support for her son.
"Friends, overwhelmed is the understatement of the world right now. I love each of you for what you are doing," she said, adding that she could not read or respond to all of the messages and invitations to join groups that had inundated her mailbox since the viral video.
"I'm humbled by the voice my boy has been given, but he's still just a little boy, and he's a little boy who desperately wants acceptance, that I have to try to find a way to navigate him through the difference in true acceptance and attention," she wrote. "I know God has His hand in this and I trust that the right things will happen in the right time. In the meantime, bear with us."
Jones could not be reached for a phone interview Saturday.
Union County Public Schools officials also could not be reached for comment Saturday.