The red flags were always there with Charlie Kennan, if you looked hard enough.
Kennan, who operated an eponymous Twitter account popular in the US men’s national team ecosystem, emerged over the past year or so as a (sometimes unreliable) source of insider information with a healthy dose of humor. That led to a Twitter following of more than 5,000 people, but not much insight into his real identity.
Adam Belz, the co-host of the popular USMNT-centric “Scuffed” podcast, and Kennan occupied the same Twitter group chat for some time alongside other American soccer fans. And while most of the group’s members chatted about their lives, Belz didn’t have the slightest clue about Kennan’s.
“There was a level of human friendship there, and sharing about our real lives, and he was just kind like an odd man out in there, who didn’t share that way,” Belz said.
In the tight-knit USMNT world, Kennan checked all of the boxes needed to become a prominent voice. Funny. Passionate. Even sporadic scoops, often on youth national team players. He once managed to track down what formation the USMNT was using during a Florida scrimmage, another content creator said.
“He had info that it seemed like other people didn’t have,” said Ben Harreld, who runs the tactical USMNT newsletter, “Half Spaces.”
Belz views Kennan’s rise as unsurprising in hindsight.
“It’s not hard,” he said. “If you have a little bit of a personality and the energy to like get involved on Twitter, it doesn’t take long in this really small USMNT community to get a little traction.”
As Kennan’s profile grew, so too did the curiosity around his penchant for news-breaking — at least to Harreld. The writer wondered aloud to Kennan — a virtual acquaintance of his — where these scoops were coming from. Kennan declined to give a clear answer.
Kennan was a faceless, mostly anonymous account providing soccer musings to thousands. That’s not an uncommon quirk among USMNT profiles.
Still, Kennan’s garden-variety peculiarity became something entirely different on Dec. 20.
That day, he uploaded an apparent selfie of a red-haired man laying in a hospital bed with a mask on. This was seemingly the first time he shared his face, and he had a sad announcement to share.
“i found out last week that i’ve been diagnosed with cancer, in my brain to be exact, which yes, i was planning to use,” he tweeted. “it’s pretty bad but here’s a cheeky little selfie to show im still in good spirits.”
Kennan’s replies were flooded by other members of the USMNT community. Scores of prominent writers chimed in with well wishes. The official USMNT account amplified his post with a quote tweet. Even young national team stars Weston McKennie (Juventus) and Sergiño Dest (Barcelona) reached out.
The small US soccer community was behind Kennan, even if some doubt lingered.
Belz’s “Scuffed” co-host, Greg Velasquez, sent him a Slack message later that night.
“Is there like .1% of you that thinks we’re all [Manti] Te’o and Charlie’s our fake girlfriend?”
Lucas Rawlings doesn’t watch much soccer.
Other than his friend previously playing for the U-17 national team, he says, he has little connection to the sport.
So why was his face being plastered to the USMNT’s millions of Twitter followers?
That’s what Rawlings was asking Dec. 21 — the day after Kennan’s “selfie” — when his friend sent him a screenshot of the viral post.
When the 24-year-old Air Force surgical tech logged onto Twitter to investigate, Kennan’s guilt in this catfishing scheme was evident to him. He was already blocked from viewing Kennan’s account, as were many of his followers, he would later learn.
Still, Rawlings had Kennan’s post in his possession, and at 8:43 p.m., exposed him for stealing his photo.
“someone took my picture and created a story off it haha i would appreciate y’all if you would go report them cause they blocked me and my close friends [laughing emoji],” he wrote on Twitter.
Rawlings appeared to take Kennan’s catfishing in stride online, but the severity of the incident sunk in before long for the real-life cancer survivor.
“Faking a cancer story is not something I take lightly,” Rawlings, who thanked his friends and family for their support, told The Post.
“These are people’s real lives. People are actually battling these cancers and these illnesses and what not.
“You know, you may have whatever reason it is for doing it — it’s not worth it, what these people’s families go through, and what their friends go through is far greater than any retweet or like.”
Rawlings was diagnosed with cancer on New Year’s Eve 2019, underwent surgery just days later and is now cancer-free. The photo in question was actually from July (unrelated to cancer), but posted on Dec. 16, just days before it was stolen. Rawlings posted the picture to celebrate a successful (roughly) one-year cancer checkup done a day or two prior.
Things took another twist after Kennan was outed. His account on soccer forum BigSoccer posted a long, rambling message from purported hackers claiming to have broken into Kennan’s Twitter and taking responsibility for his cancer post, referring to Rawlings as “that stupid cancer guy” in the process.
“******** you all & get a ********ing life lmfaoooooo,” the bizarre message ended.
The message, which many on Twitter viewed as dubious, also featured a misspelling — a familiar element of Kennan’s posts — of the word “idiot.” To further plunge the “hacking” narrative into doubt, one Twitter user shared a screenshot of a direct message from Kennan’s Twitter account from the same day, sharing a link to watch a niche U23 match between English clubs Wolves and Norwich City.
Rawlings also said a random Twitter page with the display name “Charles Barkley’s fan account” reached out to him to apologize and take responsibility for the catfishing. The Post was unable to find an account currently using that display name at the time of writing.
Rawlings holds no ill will toward the USMNT fans who initially amplified Kennan’s post and eventually directed their well wishes toward the right person.
“It happens, it happens to the best of us,” he said. “But it’s been wonderful. I’m very thankful for everyone reaching out to me really. I know my family has appreciated it as well.”
There is a backdrop to this incident that makes it particularly disturbing.
“If you have any idea who Charlie Kennan is,” Harreld said, “you were probably listening to the ‘Total Soccer Show.’”
The widely popular radio show-turned-podcast has been on the air since 2009, and gained a loyal audience behind co-hosts Taylor Rockwell and Daryl Grove.
Grove, widely beloved in the American soccer community, passed away of colon cancer on Oct. 22 at the age of 40.
“To sort of say the same thing, to pretend you have cancer, so soon after Daryl Grove actually did die of cancer — I mean, that’s just pretty s–tty,” Belz said.
Kennan had lied to a community already hypersensitive to cancer, to a group of people still mourning a “pioneer” and a “mensch,” as Belz called Grove.
And his motives remain murky.
The obvious, cynical conclusion to jump to would be that Kennan organized this hoax for money. But according to Harreld, Kennan rebuffed requests to set up a GoFundMe before he deleted his account.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
The answer to another reasonable question — Does someone with the name Charlie Kennan even exist? — is more clear. According to a public records search via searchpublicrecords.com, there are nine people living in the United States with the name Charles or Charlie Kennan. The Post called all of the phone numbers registered to people named Charlie or Charles Kennan that it obtained via a public records database search; none of the calls or voicemails left were returned. Therefore, The Post cannot confirm whether any of these people actually operated the Twitter account, or if the person operating the Twitter account was even using their real name.
Whoever Charlie Kennan really is, his hoax got the attention of some pretty important people, a perhaps unexpected outcome and one that could have led to his hasty exit from Twitter.
“I’m wondering if that’s [Dest and McKennie reaching out] what kind of freaks him out,” Harreld said. “Once you start that sort of thing happening, it’s not like 38 nerds online saying, ‘Get better, buddy.’”
Charlie Kennan may have been a phony, but his actions reverberated in a real way.
Some affected by cancer, like Rawlings, were justifiably crushed by the lie.
Others, since the initial shock and confusion subsided, have turned the bizarre situation into a punchline. Some have even made finding his real identity a mission.
“There’s a few accounts I know that are kind of turned into part-time Charlie-sleuths,” Harreld said.
But the mystery remains just that.
Regardless, no one was affected more than the direct source of Kennan’s lie: an active serviceman who asked for absolutely none of this.
Rawlings’ privacy was violated, his identity stolen, his experiences hijacked.
From the worst of circumstances, though, the USMNT may have just gained a casual fan.
“I’ll follow a little bit closer in the future,” he said.