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No, viral photo doesn't show Magic Johnson donating blood to help fight COVID-19

The NBA superstar, who announced that he had HIV in 1991, has “never donated blood,” Johnson said in a tweet. The photo is from a 2012 PBS Frontline documentary.
Credit: VERIFY
Social most post falsely claims NBA superstar Magic Johnson donated blood to "help underprivileged communities...fight COVID-19."

In November 1991, NBA superstar Magic Johnson announced that he would retire from the league after testing positive for HIV. He later returned to the NBA in 1996 to play 36 games before retiring again, the Associated Press reported. 

Since his diagnosis three decades ago, Johnson has been an advocate for awareness of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is caused by HIV. Johnson never developed AIDS and his HIV is now undetectable, CBS News reported in 2021.

A viral meme shared on social media in late August claims that Johnson donated blood to the Red Cross to “help underprivileged communities…fight COVID-19.” It appears that the image was originally shared on Twitter, but the tweet has since been deleted. 

THE QUESTION

Does a photo shared online show Magic Johnson donating blood?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

   

This is false.

No, the photo shared online doesn’t show Magic Johnson donating blood. The photo of Johnson is a still image from a 2012 PBS Frontline documentary called “Endgame: AIDS in Black America.” 

WHAT WE FOUND

Magic Johnson refuted the claims about him donating blood in a tweet posted on Aug. 23

“I’m aware of the false story circling the internet, and to be clear, I have never donated blood,” he wrote. 

The account from which the widely-shared posts appear to have originated is a satire account. 

“My posts and page are all satire. I am not a legitimate news source,” the account’s bio reads.

That account later retweeted Johnson’s message and wrote, “Can’t believe someone would make up a story like that. Absolutely disgraceful. Just stay positive magic [sic].”

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Using TinEye, a reverse image search tool, VERIFY traced the photo of Johnson back to a 2012 PBS Frontline documentary called “Endgame: Aids in Black America.” 

Both Johnson and Dr. David Ho, his physician and an HIV/AIDS specialist, appear in the documentary. The still image of the two of them that’s been used to create the recent meme appears about 1 hour and 7 seconds into the documentary. 

Credit: PBS Frontline
A screenshot shows NBA superstar Magic Johnson and Dr. David Ho in a 2012 PBS Frontline documentary called “Endgame: Aids in Black America.”

NPR also shared the still image in an article about a “Fresh Air” radio show segment on the PBS documentary. 

The photo doesn’t show Johnson donating blood at all; instead, he is getting a blood draw from Ho, according to NPR’s photo caption. 

Red Cross eligibility criteria bars certain people from donating blood, including those who have ever received a positive HIV test, as well as those with AIDS. People who have received HIV treatment known as antiretroviral therapy also should not give blood, the Red Cross says. 

Blood donations to the Red Cross are tested for HIV, along with other viruses such as Hepatitis, Zika and West Nile. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also says on its website that “individuals who have ever tested positive for HIV…should not donate blood, because of the potential risk of transmitting HIV to others.”

This isn’t the first time false claims about Johnson donating blood have circulated on social media. 

Wafflesatnoon.com, a website focusing on hoaxes, rumors and odd news, previously reported that the photo has been shared with captions about Johnson donating blood since early 2013. Using TinEye, VERIFY also found multiple instances of the false claim shared in social media, including posts from as early as 2015. 

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