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(AP) (AP)


By Laura Schulte January 28, 2022

Johnson wrong on claim that COVID vaccines are killing athletes on the playing field

If Your Time is short

  • Backup evidence provided by Johnson’s office has previously been debunked.

  • In one case, his office cited two European soccer players who collapsed, but lived

  • Athletes are not dropping dead on the field after getting vaccines, according to sports doctors.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. R-Wisconsin, is once again making waves with his false claims about COVID-19

This time, Johnson, who recently announced his re-election campaign, took to the Charlie Kirk Show on Jan. 26, 2022 to talk about COVID-19 vaccines. 

"We’ve heard story after story. All these athletes dropping dead on the field," he said during a conversation on the radio show about adverse effects of the vaccine. "But we’re supposed to ignore that. Nothing happening here, nothing to see. This is a travesty, this is a scandal." 

That was a real jaw-dropper for us. All sorts of athletes dropping dead on the field because of the vaccine? 

Is Johnson right?


Let’s take a closer look.

Fact-checks, doctors say claim is false

When asked for backup for the claim, Johnson spokeswoman Vanessa Ambrosini told us the senator has been alarmed by stories he has heard of athletes dying on the field. 

"The Senator’s point in raising these issues," she said via email, "has always been that our federal health agencies should be concerned about reports on adverse reactions related to COVID-19 vaccines and they should fully investigate and make their findings available to the American people."

Fair enough. But the claim was that there are stories about all sorts of athletes dying in the midst of competition, or at least while practicing.

Patrick Remington, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s preventive medicine residency program and a former epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency is already monitoring such things.

Johnson frequently cites a federal database of adverse events that people – from patients to doctors – report to the agency as possibly connected to various drugs. But the database itself notes the claims are not vetted to establish a cause between them.

Remington said the CDC is looking for causation, not just coincidence of two events happening in proximity to each other, such as cardiac episode and getting a vaccine. 

"The burden is on credible scientists to study whether vaccination could be associated with this outcome, and no credible science exists to say it is," he said. "We continue to do ongoing surveillance, the vaccine surveillance system is in place to study any possible associations that come up. But to date, I am not aware of any studies or any credible research that suggests that vaccines cause death in young athletes." 

Ambrosini also shared an article from which purports to list hundreds of young athletes who have died from the vaccine. The article was previously debunked in a  Dec. 17, 2021 fact-check by

"We found no proof of a causal relationship in any of the cases between the vaccines and the injuries or deaths," the fact-check said. 

Johnson’s team also cited a Dec. 23, 2021 article from the Daily Mail, which suggested that the heart problems of two Premier League soccer players – who did not die – were related to the COVID vaccine. 

But those claims have also been debunked. A June 2021 fact check by Reuters found that  Christian Ericksen’s collapse during a game was not a result of a vaccine. At the time of the collapse, Erickson was not vaccinated and was not sick with COVID. 

As for Sergio Aguero, the other soccer player, his cardiologist said the cardiac episode the player experienced was likely caused by a small scar on his heart, according to a Dec. 17, 2021 article in the Irish Post. The scar, he said, was likely caused by another virus at some point in the player’s life, but was in no way related to COVID or the vaccine. 

In addition, other fact-checks have looked at similar claims. 

Days before Johnson took to the Charlie Kirk Show, former NBA All-Star John Stockton on Jan. 23 2022 claimed more than 100 professional athletes who were vaccinated have dropped dead "right on the pitch, right on the field, right on the court." 

PolitiFact National rated this False in a Jan. 26, 2022 fact-check. In it, Matthew Martinez, a sports cardiologist with the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer and who is director of sports cardiology at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey said he was not aware of a single COVID vaccine-related cardiac complication in professional sports. 

Other doctors made similar statements.

The item went on to explain that a rare risk of myocarditis appears to be higher following a COVID-19 infection, citing a study that found 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. In other words, being vaccinated reduces this risk. 

The CDC says that it has not detected unusual or unexpected patterns for deaths following immunizations that would indicate vaccines are causing or contributing to deaths, outside of nine confirmed deaths following the Janssen vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Those deaths resulted from a rare and serious adverse reaction involving blood clots, called thrombosis. 

But that is far from hundreds, and is far different than Johnson’s claim of "all these athletes" dying on the playing field.

Our ruling

Johnson claimed that "all these athletes are dropping dead on the field" after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination. 

But similar claims have repeatedly been debunked – doctors have not encountered athletes dropping dead from the vaccine. And doctors for the two European soccer players Johnson’s staff cited have said those cardiac episodes were not caused by the vaccine.

There is also the obvious problem with those cases, as they relate to supporting Johnson’s claim, so far as that the two athletes are not, well, dead.

Finally, health experts have also said that no research shows the link between sudden death incidents in sports players and vaccines. 

We rate this claim as False. 


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Johnson wrong on claim that COVID vaccines are killing athletes on the playing field

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