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Photo shows Magic Johnson having blood drawn, not donating it

August 22, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: A photo shows former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who has HIV, donating blood in August 2022 to help COVID-19 patients.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The image is miscaptioned. It comes from a 2012 documentary and shows Johnson getting his blood routinely drawn at a doctor’s appointment, not donating blood to the Red Cross recently. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be transmitted through contact with the blood of a person who has a detectable viral load. The Red Cross does not accept blood donations from people who have ever had a positive HIV test and it screens all donations for the virus.

THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing a 10-year-old photo of Johnson out of context to falsely claim that it shows the iconic athlete and activist giving blood this month, despite his previous HIV diagnosis.

The image shows Johnson with a tourniquet around his arm, hooked up to a tube while a doctor obtains a blood sample.

“Earlier today, NBA legend Magic Johnson donated some of his blood to the Red Cross to help underprivileged communities help fight COVID-19,” one tweet with the image falsely claimed on Thursday, receiving more than 10,000 likes and more than 25,000 shares.

The account that posted the photo states in its bio that it is a satire page. While some users shared the image indicating it was a joke, many reposted the image questioning whether the caption was true or expressing concern.

One post resharing the image added the caption “HE DONATED WHAT?!?,” receiving an additional 38,000 retweets and 233,000 likes in addition to comments that indicated many users believed the caption was correct.

The image also spread widely online last year with similar miscaptions.

But the image does not show Johnson donating blood to the Red Cross on Thursday. It’s a still from a 2012 documentary produced by PBS Frontline called “Endgame: AIDS in Black America.” It was captured during a scene that shows Johnson getting his blood drawn at a doctor’s appointment by his longtime physician, Dr. David Ho.

The still was also published by NPR on July 5, 2012, to illustrate a Fresh Air segment about the documentary. At the time, it ran with the caption “Dr. David Ho, an HIV/AIDS specialist, draws blood from Magic Johnson, one of the people featured in Endgame: AIDS in Black America.”

Red Cross standards for blood donation prohibit people who have ever received a positive HIV test, or those who may be at risk for becoming infected with HIV, from giving blood. All donations are also tested for the virus and antibodies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the U.S. blood supply is “thoroughly tested” and that “blood collection procedures are highly regulated and safe.”

Johnson, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships, announced during a live news conference in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV and would be immediately retiring from the NBA. He returned to the league two more times before retiring for the final time in 1996.

In the decades since, he has become a high-profile advocate for HIV awareness and prevention. Medication has also helped him remain undetectable, which means the amount of HIV in the body is suppressed to a very low level. He has not developed AIDS, which is the late stage of HIV infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is severely damaged.

Representatives for Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.