Does an article listing 1,616 "athlete collapses and deaths" between January 2021 and December 2022 prove a connection between these mishaps and the COVID-19 vaccine? No, that's not true: While the article documents scores of "athletes" who have died or collapsed for various reasons (some of them clearly non-cardiac in nature, like cancer, suicide, drug overdose or accidents), their vaccine status is largely unknown and no connection is made between COVID vaccination and the medical event that led to them being put on the list.
An early version of the article, which is regularly updated, put the number of "athletes" at 1,598, and was cited as a source in a December 21, 2022, letter to the editor of the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology. That letter was co-authored by Peter A. McCullough, a major spreader of COVID misinformation.
The claim about "athlete collapses and deaths" appeared on Instagram on January 3, 2023, under the title "Athlete Collapses and Deaths, 2021 - 22." It opened:
Should Sudden Death be Investigated for connection to Vaccine?
How many times have I heard doctors say,'as the data changes so does the science.'
1616 Athlete Cardiac Arrests,
Serious Issues, 1114 of Them Dead,
Since COVID Injection - article 👇🏾👇🏾👇🏾
It's #SCIENCE -
This is what the post looked like at the time of the writing:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Jan 3 19:01:47 2021 UTC)
The post links to a story on the Good Sciencing website, which keeps the identities of its "small team of investigators, news editors, journalists, and truth seekers" secret. (The Lead Stories analysis of who appears to be behind the site is here.) The website's About page says:
It doesn't really matter who we are. What really matters is that we [are] carrying on an investigation and we're presenting the evidence we've found, almost all of it documented in mainstream media publications.
We're doing this anonymously because we've seen people viciously attacked and threatened for doing things like this, so we're not going to open ourselves or any of our contacts to that.
The About page of the site also thanks the following anti-vaccine or vaccine-hesitant groups and individuals: The "NOTB - Sports - Sudden collapse and deaths." Telegram group, the "No More Silence" website, "Stew Peters" and "all the individual investigators."
An investigation by Lead Stories revealed that one of the key persons behind the site is likely Alan Gray, the CEO of NewsBlaze, an Australia-based entrepreneur who runs alternative news websites. He does not appear to have any medical or scientific credentials.
The version of the Good Sciencing article available on January 3, 2023, said the site had compiled the list of 1,616 "athlete cardiac arrests [and] serious issues" since the advent of widespread COVID vaccinations in early 2021. It claimed this tally includes 1,114 deaths. The article's opening paragraph sets up its premise:
It is definitely not normal for so many mainly young athletes to suffer from cardiac arrests or to die while playing their sport, but this year it is happening. Many of these heart issues and deaths come shortly after they got a COVID vaccine.
The article goes on to say:
Contained in the list are many professional athletes and high level amateur athletes. It would not be sensible to try to report the death of every person on the planet, so we have selected a category of person who should be fit enough to lead a long and healthy life. This means that provided a person is reasonably fit, healthy and does some athletic activity, rather than an unfit 'couch potato,' then they can be included in this list. Needless to say, these are only the persons reported to us by readers or that we discovered during research.
Looking at the list, Lead Stories found that Good Sciencing appears to have a broad definition of what constitutes a professional athlete or a high-level amateur athlete. Included on the list are 61-year-old college football coach Mike Leach, a 54-year-old soccer coach and a 67-year-old former NHL hockey player. One of the more unusual athletes on the list was Thailand's 44-year-old Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, who collapsed while training her dogs.
Also, many of these "athletes" did not collapse or have heart attacks. Gary Tiller, a 62-year-old curling player from Canada, died after a "brief battle with cancer," and Max Mitchell, a 23-year-old rookie with the New York Jets, isn't playing for the rest of the 2022-23 season because he has blood clots in his right leg. Also listed was a suicide by a softball player and a linebacker who overdosed on drugs.
The deaths or serious health issues of these individuals are largely well-documented, but the purported connections to COVID vaccinations are not. It's not clear in the majority of cases what their vaccination status was or if it even played a role in their deaths or health crises. And the article acknowledges this difficulty:
More people are writing to tell us that in many cases, we didn't mention a person's vaccination status. There is a good reason for that. None of the clubs want to reveal this information. None of their sponsors want to reveal it. The players have been told not to reveal it. Most of their relatives will not mention it. None of the media are asking this question.
Long before the pandemic and COVID vaccines, the deaths of young athletes were not uncommon. In a 2016 study of "Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes," three Massachusetts General Hospital physicians estimated the incidence of sudden cardiac death at between 1 in 40,000 athletes to 1 in 80,000 athletes per year.
Both the post on Instagram and the Good Sciencing article use a phrase, "sudden death," that is a play on "Died Suddenly," the title of an error-filled anti-vaccine film. As of late 2022, social media posts that make false claims about the lethal dangers of the COVID vaccines frequently use this expression.