Many U.S. athletes have been vaccinated against COVID-19 without any adverse effects. But a conservative outlet has cited a list of supposedly vaccine-injured athletes to claim “there may be something wrong with the vaccine.” There’s no proof that the listed athletes — most of them are actually retired — were harmed by the vaccines.
Professional athletes in some of America’s most popular leagues are, for the most part, vaccinated against COVID-19: 94.4% of players in the NFL are vaccinated, about 95% in the NBA, and more than 99% in the NHL.
Like the more than 200 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated, most athletes didn’t report serious side effects.
But a bogus claim has been circulating on social media that a rash of athletes have either been injured or died from the vaccines.
Reuters wrote about a version of this claim that centered on soccer players. We’ll focus on a claim from the conservative outlet Gateway Pundit, which featured a list of athletes, compiled by goodsciencing.com, who supposedly suffered vaccine-related injuries or death. Good Sciencing, a website that is run anonymously, claims to track instances of “young athletes who had major medical issues in 2021 after receiving one or more COVID vaccines.”
According to the Gateway Pundit, the list “shows that there may be something wrong with the vaccine if the world’s greatest athletes suffer or die after taking the vaccines.”
More than 300 athletes — including students, professionals, amateurs and retirees — from around the world were included. We reviewed publicly available information for each of the 19 professional athletes who either came from or played in the U.S. We found no proof of a causal relationship in any of the cases between the vaccines and the injuries or deaths.
We also found:
- Despite the description of them as “athletes,” 13 of the 19 were retired from their sport.
- Although Good Sciencing claims COVID-19 vaccines were to blame for the deaths or injuries, the website provides no evidence in most cases — 16 of the 19 — that the athletes and former athletes were even vaccinated.
- While in most cases the cause of death or injury remains unknown, we found several cases in which the men or their families point to other causes, such as medical histories. In one case, a former hockey player had been struggling with a drug addiction and died of an overdose, not from a vaccine.
- There were two cases in which athletes claimed that they had suffered an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine, but in one of those cases the athlete retracted his claim.
Details for each case are below:
Two weeks before he died, Aaron had publicly received his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. But there’s no evidence that his death was related and we’ve written before about claims that it was.
The Fulton County medical examiner, Karen Sullivan, told AFP Fact Check in an emailed statement shortly after his death: “There was no information suggestive of an allergic or anaphylactic reaction to any substance which might be attributable to recent vaccine distribution.” She added: “In addition, examination of Mr. Aaron’s body did not suggest his death was due to any event other than that associated with his medical history.”
An official from her office, which examined Aaron’s body following his death, told FactCheck.org by phone at the time that he died “due to natural causes.”
The immediate cause of Radford’s death was hypertensive arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which he’d had for months, according to his death certificate. A contributing cause was a brain hemorrhage caused by an aneurysm. There was no mention of the COVID-19 vaccines, which weren’t yet available for people of Radford’s age when he died.
The vaccines were available to health care workers, residents in long-term care facilities, first responders and those who were at least 80 years old, according to eligibility criteria from the Indiana Department of Health at the time.
– Andy Haman, a retired professional bodybuilder, died on March 19, 2021. He was 54. Haman died after having a pulmonary embolism following surgery on his elbow, according to his family’s post on a fundraising website. His wife, Michelle Haman, told a Canadian publication, Muscle Insider, that Haman had also had a pulmonary embolism that almost killed him a year earlier.
“With his history of this the Doctors believed that is what happened again,” she told the magazine.
We could find no public record of his vaccination status, and the Good Sciencing list did not provide any evidence that he was vaccinated.
– Alex Stalock, a 34-year-old goalie for the Edmonton Oilers, told the sports reporting website The Athletic that he was diagnosed with a heart condition called myocarditis after he had tested positive for COVID-19 in November 2020. The first vaccines weren’t available until the following month.
“It was just crazy,” Stalock told The Athletic. “It was right at the time where they were finding this in a lot of athletes after having COVID, especially in college football.”
Oddly, one of the two sources cited in the Good Sciencing list is the article from The Athletic, which says nothing about vaccines. The other source, similarly, says nothing of vaccines.
It’s worth noting, too, that COVID-19 increases the risk for myocarditis. An Israeli study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found COVID-19 to be associated with 11 additional cases of myocarditis per 100,000 people.
– Brandon Goodwin, 26, who plays for Westchester Knicks in the NBA’s G League and previously played for the Atlanta Hawks, suggested in early October that he’d had a vaccine-related injury in the spring, but then he reeled in the claim two weeks later. Goodwin didn’t respond to our request for clarification, but here’s what’s publicly available:
Starting on May 16, the Hawks posted on Twitter that Goodwin was out with “flu-like symptoms.”
The same day, Goodwin tweeted, “Swear I’ve been sick more times this year then in my entire life.”
On May 18, the Hawks tweeted, “Brandon Goodwin has been diagnosed with a minor respiratory condition which requires treatment and will keep him out the remainder of the season.”
Neither the team nor Goodwin mentioned anything about vaccination in relation to his illness.
Then, in early October, Goodwin said in a livestream on Twitch that he had gotten “sick” in the spring and that the symptoms — including fatigue and back pain — began while playing against the Philadelphia 76ers in late April.
“I was fine up until then, up until I took the vaccine I was fine,” he said in the video. “So people trying to tell you, like, ‘no, it’s not the vaccine.’ Like, how do you know? You don’t know.”
Then, in a recording of the session posted to YouTube, Goodwin says, “yes, the vaccine ended my season — 1000%.”
He then says that whatever caused his illness didn’t result in long-term effects. “I got back to normal after I had that little episode and went to the hospital,” he said. “I was cool, I was fine.”
His claim was boosted by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccination organization, Children’s Health Defense, and attracted anti-vaccine advocates to his Twitter page.
On Oct. 14, Goodwin backpedaled, tweeting, “I got sick. Maybe it was the vaccine maybe it was covid idk I’m not a expert. But I’m fine, and I’m healthy and about to play.”
Since Goodwin didn’t respond to our request for comment, we can’t say what caused his illness. But Goodwin has been cleared for play in the NBA G League, participating in Westchester Knicks games since Nov. 23. In a recent game on Dec. 12, Goodwin led his team in scoring with 33 points. So, he’s not an example of someone sidelined by vaccines.
– Daniel Brito, 23, is on the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor league team the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. He was signed by the Phillies in 2014.
Brito collapsed during a game in Rochester, New York, on July 31 and underwent surgery that evening, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The Phillies announced Sept. 30 that Brito had been moved to a rehabilitation facility earlier that week.
“He has shown progress in his recovery, and while there is still a long road of rehab ahead, his medical staff has marveled at his determination and competitive spirit throughout this process,” the statement said.
We could find no details about what had caused Brito to collapse, and the Phillies’ statement noted that his family had asked for privacy. There’s no evidence that the incident was related to a vaccine.
Meadows had a heart attack the year before, on May 11, 2020, and said in a YouTube video he posted later that week that he’d had blood clots in his heart.
The immediate cause of death listed on his death certificate was “late complications of idiopathic myointimal hyperplasia with thrombosis.” Another significant condition listed was “recurrent thrombotic disease with long term use of anticoagulants.” So thrombosis, or blood clots, contributed to his death. There was no mention of COVID-19 vaccines.
Meadows had other medical issues, too. According to an obituary in a trade publication for bodybuilders, Meadows was diagnosed in 2005 with a “rare colon disease called Idiopathic Myointimal Hyperplasia of the Mesenteric Veins.” That condition required him to have his colon removed, the article said.
We could find no public record of his vaccination status, and the Good Sciencing list provided no evidence of his vaccination status, either.
– Kyle Warner, a professional mountain biker based in Idaho, has been vocal about medical issues he says are due to the second dose of a Pfizer vaccine. Warner, 29, has posted videos about his medical issues on his social media platforms and he participated in a panel discussion hosted by Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who has promoted the use of unproven treatments for COVID-19 and sown doubt about the vaccines.
Johnson opened the panel session saying, “We are billing this as a discussion about the vaccine mandates, which is the current policy response to COVID that will rob us of freedom and take an enormous toll on human beings and on our economy.”
The senator had held a similar press conference in June.
Warner told the panel that he was diagnosed with a heart condition after he received his second dose of the vaccine in June.
We asked Warner for evidence showing that his diagnosis was related to the vaccine and he provided us with a letter his cardiologist wrote to another doctor clearing him for an unrelated procedure.
The letter, dated Sept. 22, said that Warner “had myocarditis after a COVID-19 vaccination.”
It went on, “a follow up cardiac MRI and stress test were normal.”
The vaccine safety panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in May, five months after the vaccines rolled out in the U.S., that there had been “relatively few” reports of myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — after vaccination.
“Within CDC safety monitoring systems, rates of myocarditis reports in the window following COVID-19 vaccination have not differed from expected baseline rates,” a report of the panel’s May 17 meeting said. Still, the panel recommended that information about the potential adverse event be given to doctors.
Later that month, the CDC posted a page on its website about pericarditis and myocarditis following vaccination, although it is unclear if the vaccine actually causes those heart problems. In June, the Food and Drug Administration added information about the potential risk to the fact sheets for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Public health officials continue to monitor reports of potential adverse reactions following the vaccines, including reports made to the government’s Vaccine Adverse Reporting System, or VAERS, to determine whether there may be previously unknown risks.
As of Nov. 24, 2021, VAERS had received 1,949 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis among people ages 30 and younger, according to the CDC. On that date, more than 196 million people had been fully vaccinated and nearly 567 million doses of the vaccine had been administered.
After officials followed up on those VAERS reports, including medical record reviews, the CDC and FDA confirmed 1,071 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis. The CDC is still investigating whether or not those illnesses have a relationship to COVID-19 vaccination.
The CDC has noted that reports of those conditions following vaccination are rare and “[m]ost patients with myocarditis or pericarditis who received care responded well to medicine and rest and felt better quickly.”
– George Peterson, 37, former bodybuilder and “Classic Physique” competition winner of the 2019 Arnold Classic, was found dead on Oct. 6 in his Orlando hotel room days before competing in the 2021 Mr. Olympia competition.
Peterson was suspected to have died several hours before being found by his coach and friend, Justin Miller, who attempted CPR and called the police.
We could find no public record of Peterson’s vaccination status, and Good Sciencing did not provide any evidence he was vaccinated.
We have emailed the Orange County coroner’s office for more information, but no cause of death or details of an autopsy have been shared at this time.
– Carl Madsen, 71, who worked as an NFL official for over two decades, died on Oct. 28 after suffering from an apparent medical issue while driving home from a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans.
According to the Associated Press, the Metro Nashville Police Department said officers were called about a stalled SUV with an unconscious driver. After arriving at the scene, officers broke a window to remove Madsen from the vehicle and performed chest compressions until the fire department arrived to take him to St. Thomas Midtown Hospital, where he died.
In 2013, Feliciano revealed he had been diagnosed with a non-life-threatening, rare medical condition that caused a small hole in the exterior of his heart. At this time, Feliciano’s cause of death remains unknown, and it’s not clear if the rare condition caused his death. We could find no public record of his vaccination status, and the Good Sciencing list did not provide any evidence that he was vaccinated.
– David Patten, 47, a former NFL wide receiver who won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, died in a Sept. 2 motorcycle accident in Columbia, South Carolina, according to Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford, who provided a statement to AFP on Patten’s death.
The U.S. Sun reported that the South Carolina Highway Patrol said the wreck involving Patten happened after 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 2 in the northeast part of Richland County. Patten was on his motorcycle going west on Clemson Road and drove into the opposing lane, according to the highway patrol. He then hit a sedan, which sideswiped a van.
Rutherford confirmed that Patten died in the wreck.
We could find no record of Patten’s vaccination status and no evidence that his death was related to any complications of a vaccine. The Good Sciencing list provided no evidence that Patten was vaccinated.
– Vinny Curry, 33, a defensive end for the New York Jets, was placed on injured reserve for a non-football injury on Aug. 24 after he developed a rare blood disorder and had his spleen removed. He was forced to miss the entire 2021 season.
On Aug. 3, Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey posted a pro-vaccine public service advertisement from Curry to its Facebook page. In the PSA, Curry said he had been vaccinated and encouraged others to get the vaccine, saying, “it’s easy, safe, effective in protecting yourself.”
In a Sept. 15 tweet, Curry said his medical condition was hereditary and denied that it was caused by a vaccine. Curry tweeted: “I did not know there so many fake articles about me.. My bad I didn’t correct people sooner. My situation was hereditary, my spleen had to come out vaccinated or not….”
– Jimmy Hayes, 31, a former Boston Bruins hockey player, was found dead at his home in Milton, Massachusetts, on Aug. 23. He died of a drug overdose.
The Boston Globe reported in an Oct. 17 article that an autopsy was performed two days after he died, but the Hayes family did not learn the cause of his death until Aug. 27, when they were en route to New Jersey for a pregame tribute to Hayes. That’s when his wife, Kristen, got the toxicology report from the Massachusetts state medical examiner, who listed the cause of death as “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl and cocaine.”
In an interview with the Globe, Hayes’ father said his son told him 16 or 17 months ago that he had a drug addiction and had been in rehab. That would have been before a vaccine was authorized for use in the U.S.
At the time of his death, Dustin Penner, another former NHL player, who frequently posts anti-vaccine tweets, posted a Twitter thread that included a video tribute to Hayes and linked his death to the COVID-19 vaccine in a montage of photos that included his obit, a story on the NHL requiring league workers to be vaccinated, and two stories about the CDC investigating the death of Jacob Clynick, a 13-year-old Michigan boy, after receiving his second Pfizer dose. But, contrary to that post, Hayes’ death was caused by a drug overdose.
– Parys Haralson, 37, was a former NFL linebacker who played for the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints from 2006 to 2014. “After his playing career, Haralson served as the 49ers’ director of player engagement for two years,” USA Today reported. The 49ers announced that he took on that role in 2016, so he was not an employee of the 49ers when he died on Sept. 13 and not subject to the league’s vaccination rules.
At the time of his death, he was working for Mode, a San Francisco company, according to his LinkedIn account.
He died at his home in San Jose, California, according to a story on the Saints’ website. That story said no cause was disclosed at the time of his death, but “friends say he died of a heart attack in his sleep.”
The Santa Clara coroner’s office told us in an email that “the cause and manner for Parys Haralson is PENDING.”
We could find no public record of his vaccination status, and the Good Sciencing list did not provide any evidence that he was vaccinated.
– Willis Forko, 37, a Liberian-American soccer coach, died on Nov. 8 of causes that have not been publicly disclosed.
Forko played for Real Salt Lake from 2006 to 2008 before joining the Bodø/Glimt in Norway and then the Vancouver Whitecaps. He coached soccer in Houston, Texas, until his death, according to his LinkedIn profile.
We could find no public record of Forko’s vaccination status, and the Good Sciencing list did not provide any evidence that he was vaccinated.
– Murphy Jensen, 53, a retired professional tennis player who won the doubles championship at the French Open in 1993, suffered cardiac arrest during a celebrity tennis tournament on Oct. 30.
He has since recovered, taking to Instagram on Nov. 9 to share that he’d been discharged from the hospital. Jensen, who has struggled with substance use disorder, wrote that he was leaving the hospital “with the clarity of a sober person and love of a grateful heart.”
We could find no public record of Jensen’s vaccination status, and the Good Sciencing list did not provide any evidence that he was vaccinated.
– Julio Lugo, 45, a former Boston Red Sox shortstop, died of a heart attack on Nov. 15.
Lugo, who retired in 2013, played for the Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox. During his first season with the Red Sox, in 2007, the team won the World Series.
We could find no public record of Lugo’s vaccination status, and the Good Sciencing list did not provide any evidence that he was vaccinated.
– C.J. Hunter, 52, a retired Olympic shot putter, died of unknown causes on Nov. 28.
Hunter, who participated in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games, was banned from the sport for two years after drug tests following the 2000 games revealed that he had been using the steroid nandrolone. Following the 2000 games, both Hunter and his then-wife Marion Jones were investigated as part of a federal inquiry into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which illegally provided performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.
Hunter confirmed that he was retiring in 2001, around the time his two-year ban was instituted.
We could find no public record of Hunter’s vaccination status, and the Good Sciencing list did not provide any evidence that he was vaccinated.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
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This article was written by Brea Jones during her time as an NABJ/Facebook Fact-Checking Fellow at the University of Pennslyvania’s publication Factcheck.org.