The memo went up on the wall of the Washington Redskins' locker room in the middle of December, a stern warning from Phillip Daniels, the team's director of player development, in the wake of an unsettling revelation.
His message did not waver: Stay away from @RedRidnH00d. Avoid her on Twitter. Avoid her on Instagram. Do not converse with this person on any social media platform. She is not who she claims to be.
"Once we found out the person wasn't real, we went from there," Daniels told NFL.com when contacted late last week about the situation.
Yes, at around the same time Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o claims he learned he was part of an Internet-related hoax, at least four Redskins players also became aware of their own role in a completely separate, coincidentally timed and ultimately less harmful saga of false online identities.
NFL.com has learned that NFL security conducted an investigation into a situation involving a woman, known by the pseudonym Sidney Ackerman, who used pictures of an Internet adult entertainer, C.J. Miles, to establish dialogues with pro athletes.
On Monday, shortly after it became clear to the operator of the Twitter account in question that NFL.com planned to publish this story, the account was no longer available. Sidney Ackerman's Facebook page also was deleted on the same day.
According to multiple sources, the conversations occurred mostly through Twitter's direct messaging function. But in some instances, "Ackerman" also sent separate photos of Miles to players' cell phones, never suggesting the photos were not her own, as conversations endured on and off for months.
"If you think about it, a lot of them are single guys, and they see somebody who looks good in a picture or something," Daniels said. "In many cases, it involves someone who is a fan of the team, so they'll start talking about the team. You have to recognize that something just isn't right.
"But you're talking about a lot of guys who are single. I don't fault the guys. I fault the people who are doing this crazy stuff, causing these problems."
Here's what the team eventually did learn about "Ackerman," according to sources: She is indeed a woman and a diehard Redskins fan. She did not, however, ever ask for money or benefits, nor did she attempt to threaten or exploit any of the players.
|"Sidney Ackerman," a pseudonym used by the scam artist behind the @RedRidnH00d Twitter account, doctored photos of adult entertainer C.J. Miles in an attempt to gain players' trust. (Via Facebook/)|
On multiple occasions, several Redskins players attempted to arrange meetings with "Ackerman," but none of them succeeded, Daniels said. The numerous failed attempts led to suspicion, and Daniels then received some independent information about the possibility that "Ackerman" indeed was a fake.
Unlike Te'o, none of the Redskins players involved became emotionally attached to "Ackerman," instead pursuing her out of nothing more than physical appeal, sources close to the situation said. "Ackerman" also sent at least one player a pornographic video of Miles, which she also claimed to be of herself. On certain occasions, "Ackerman" also doctored photos of Miles in an attempt to personalize them and provide the athletes with a sense that she indeed was the person she claimed to be.
"I think it was all about attention," Daniels said. "I don't think it was any of the other stuff. It was just about being able to talk to them, pretending to be someone they aren't. It was never a situation where guys were giving money or anything like that."
"Ackerman" had collected more than 17,000 followers on Twitter, which created a sense of legitimacy in the minds of players, according to sources. However, her account was not verified by the social media platform, which currently is the only formal way in which Twitter users can confirm an identity.
While the Redskins' locker room surely is on notice as a result of December's findings regarding @RedRidnH00d, it is clear this issue of athletes falling for social media hoaxes persists. There's no better example than this one:
Last Friday, NFL.com discovered another unverified Twitter account, @RideAndDieChick, which also used a photo of Miles as its Twitter avatar. NFL.com was able to confirm that separate people run each of these accounts (@RideAndDieChick and @RedRidnH00d) independently of one another. Perhaps most unsettling about the latest account, which started operating within the past two months: As of Saturday afternoon, @RideAndDieChick was being followed by 22 verified NFL players and six verified NBA players. As of Tuesday, however, the account no longer was active.
During a dialogue with @RideAndDieChick through the direct message function Saturday, the person operating the account claimed to have had conversations with at least three notable professional football players. The identity of those players has been withheld because the conversations could not be independently verified.
|The operator of @RideAndDieChick deactivated this Twitter account shortly after communicating with NFL.com. (Via Twitter/)|
In Saturday's conversation, the @RideAndDieChick operator claimed to be a "new sports fan," although the user's timeline, which was filled with requests for athletes to follow the account, suggests the user instead is very knowledgeable about sports.
"People think I want popularity, but I just wanna make star friends that I wouldn't be able to meet in the real world," @RideAndDieChick wrote, maintaining the fabricated identity throughout the conversation.
In the wake of these situations on Twitter, it stands to wonder if the NFL will begin making efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of social media. At the NFL's Rookie Symposium each year, rookies often are taught to withhold from trusting anyone outside of their circles.
In the future, it certainly seems realistic that social media, in its ever-growing state, will be included in such teachings. As Daniels said, these situations are upsetting to him -- and he hopes a raised awareness will help warn players of a surreal truth: Many more fake users are lurking.
"It can be a sad business, man," Daniels said. "It's sad you have to go through stuff like this."
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.