Stand up for the facts!
Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.
I would like to contribute
If Your Time is short
Stockton’s claim is not backed up by any scientific evidence. There have been no reports linking the COVID-19 vaccines to heart issues in athletes and sports cardiologists said they haven’t seen athletes collapse after getting vaccinated against the virus.
Previous lists of athletes this has supposedly happened to have included people who didn’t die, didn’t get the vaccine, or had a family history of heart issues.
NBA All-Star John Stockton made headlines after he revealed in a recent interview that his alma mater, Gonzaga University, suspended his basketball season tickets after he refused to comply with the school’s mask mandate for sporting events.
Masks aren’t Stockton’s only issue. The former Utah Jazz player has detailed his stance against COVID-19 vaccines and lockdowns for some time and appeared in a 2021 documentary called "Covid and the Vaccine: Truth, Lies and Misconceptions Revealed."
Now, he’s made a series of false claims about the pandemic in an interview with his hometown newspaper the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and notably repeated a persistent myth about professional athletes abruptly dying from the vaccines.
"And I think it’s highly recorded now, there’s 150 I believe now — it’s over 100 professional athletes dead, professional athletes, the prime of their life, dropping dead that are vaccinated, right on the pitch, right on the field, right on the court," Stockton told the newspaper on Jan. 23.
PolitiFact could not reach Stockton to ask him about his evidence. But we have debunked similar claims that said professional athletes were supposedly collapsing due to heart issues brought on by the COVID-19 vaccines, and while the narrative continues to be spread by critics of the pandemic like Stockton, there is still no credible evidence to support it.
Previous lists of athletes who purportedly died from the COVID-19 vaccines have included people who hadn’t died or hadn’t gotten the vaccine. There have been no official reports linking the vaccines to heart issues in athletes, and multiple sports cardiologists have called the claims unfounded.
"To date, I am not aware of a single COVID vaccine-related cardiac complication in the professional sports," said Matthew Martinez, a sports cardiologist who works with the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer and who is the director of sports cardiology at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey.
The same goes for Jonathan Kim, an associate professor of medicine and chief of sports cardiology at Emory University in Atlanta. "I am not aware of any reports that vaccines in athletes are causing cardiac issues," he said.
While the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines have been well documented, the shots have been associated with inflammation of the heart muscle, called myocarditis, with teenage boys and young men most likely to be affected. But the risk is very low, and most cases are mild with a quick recovery. Doctors say the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risk of myocarditis.
While still rare, the risk of myocarditis also appears to be higher following a COVID-19 infection, with one study finding that boys and young men infected with the virus are up to six times more likely to develop the heart condition than those who have received the vaccine.
The CDC says it has not detected any unusual or unexpected patterns for deaths following immunization that would indicate that the COVID-19 vaccines are causing or contributing to deaths, outside of nine confirmed deaths following the Janssen vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. These deaths resulted from complications of thrombosis, a rare and serious adverse reaction involving blood clots, the agency said.
One person who appeared in previous lists about athletes who died while playing is Italian soccer player Giuseppe Perrino. But Perrino’s death hasn’t been linked to the COVID-19 vaccines.
He died of a heart attack on June 2 while playing in a soccer game honoring his brother, who had died of a heart attack while cycling in 2018. A headline on a news story about Perrino’s death reads, "Heart attack kills Giuseppe Perrino like brother Rocco." Stories about his death do not mention COVID-19 vaccination.
Another person cited, Dutch speed skater Kjeld Nuis, 32, did have a heart problem in July 2021 a week after he received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to news coverage at the time, but he didn’t die. Nuis posted on Instagram later that month saying that he was fine and that he was at training camp. He did not say whether he believed his COVID-19 vaccination contributed to his heart problem or whether it was linked to his athletic activity. Nuis had tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020.
Other examples include:
Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen, 29, collapsed during a match on June 12, and his team director said he wasn’t vaccinated for COVID-19. He is still alive.
Former French soccer player, Franck Berrier, 37, died of a heart attack in August while playing tennis — two years after retiring from soccer because of heart problems. Stories about his death do not mention any link to COVID-19 vaccination.
Keyontae Johnson, a 22-year-old University of Florida basketball player, collapsed on Dec. 12, 2020, days before the COVID-19 vaccine was made available to people in the U.S. His collapse wasn’t related to COVID-19, according to a Feb. 3, 2021, statement from his family.
A young athlete experiencing cardiac arrest is not common, but it’s also not unprecedented. And there are different reasons an athlete might collapse.
Michael Emery, co-director of the Cleveland Clinic Sports Cardiology Center, said that dehydration, heat stroke and genetic heart conditions, among other factors, can lead to collapse.
NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar criticized Stockton over his remarks.
"I think John’s reaction to the vaccine is extreme and not based on reality or facts," Abdul-Jabbar told CNN. "If John could just check the facts out, he would understand that this vaccine is saving lives and preventing people from having serious reactions to the virus. It won’t eliminate the virus overnight, but it will stop people from dying and will stop people from becoming seriously ill."
Stockton claimed over 100 professional athletes who are vaccinated are "dropping dead, right on the pitch, right on the field, right on the court."
This is not backed up by any science or actual data. There have been no official reports linking the vaccines to heart issues in athletes and sports cardiologists said they haven’t seen athletes collapse after getting vaccinated against the virus.
Lists of athletes this has supposedly happened to have included people who didn’t die, didn’t get the vaccine, or had a family history of heart issues.
We rate this False.
The Spokesman Review, Q&A: John Stockton talks Gonzaga basketball suspension, COVID-19 vaccine opposition and more, Jan. 23, 2022
PolitiFact, Dozens of prominent athletes did not die of heart attacks after COVID-19 vaccination, Nov. 19, 2021
PolitiFact, There’s no proof athletes collapsed with heart issues because of COVID-19 vaccination, Dec. 1, 2021
The Hill, Abdul-Jabbar says Stockton vaccine comments make athletes look like 'dumb jocks', Jan. 24, 2022
Email interview, Scott Pauley, press officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jan. 25, 2022
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.