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American football star Barry Sanders, left, is not Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, right

Barry Sanders is an African-American former professional football player known for his stint with the Detroit Lions.

Bernie Sanders is a self-described “Democratic socialist” and the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

You would think it would be hard to get the two mixed up.

Yet fans of Garth Brooks were confused – and angry – after mistaking one for the other after a performance featuring the country music star.

When Brooks took to the stage in Detroit, Michigan wearing the jersey of one of the Lions’ most famous players, a numerical coincidence started a backlash online.

Fans thought the number 20 Barry Sanders jersey stood for something else – that Brooks was backing Bernie Sanders for president in 2020.

Soon the Instagram account of one of America’s best-selling country music stars was filled with criticism, accusing Brooks of being a “millionaire socialist”.

Some commentators attempted to correct the assumption, but it seems that for every person who pointed out that the 200lb (14 st) former football running back, 51, is not the 78 year-old Vermont senator, there is another telling Brooks to “stay out of politics”.

A tweet highlighting the Instagram row has been liked more than 180,000 times, and expanded the dispute to yet another social media platform.

The mix-up has inspired memes featuring Mr Sanders, the senator, and lyrics from the Brooks hit “Friends in Low Places“.

Outside of lighting the internet on fire with his decision to wear an American football jersey, Brooks is known as a successful country singer who has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards and won two.

His association with Barry Sanders goes further than appearing on stage in Detroit – both the player and singer are graduates of Oklahoma State University.

There is an assumed relationship between country music and right-wing politics in the US, where in 2003, the Dixie Chicks were dropped by several country radio stations after a band member criticised then-President George W. Bush.

Several country music stars were invited to perform on the eve of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 including Brooks, though he was criticised after declining the invitation in order to play a show he had already committed to in Ohio on the same day.

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