Boxing Legend Marvin Hagler’s Death Stokes Unfounded COVID-19 Vaccine Conspiracies

President Reagan during a photo op. with boxer Marvin Hagler in the Oval Office (Credit: Wikicommons)

In the wake of Marvin Hagler’s passing last week, anti-vaxxers have been spreading misinformation linking the boxing legend’s death to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Much of the speculation was fueled by a March 14 Instagram post from Hagler’s former rival, Thomas Hearns, who claimed that Hagler was hospitalized due to “after-effects” of the coronavirus vaccine. His post led to a flood of anti-vaccination conspiracies and sentiment on social media, including posts from rapper R.A. the Rugged Man and former professional baseball player Aubrey Huff.

Hearns’ post has since been deleted, while Hagler’s official website confirmed that the boxer died of “natural causes near his home in New Hampshire.” Hagler’s widow, Kay Hagler, also took to Facebook to address the misinformation surrounding her husband’s death:

“I was the only person close to him until the last minute, and I am the only person that know how things went not even his family know all the details and I do NOT accept to read some stupid comment without knowing really what happen,” she wrote. “For sure wasn’t the vaccine that caused his death. My baby left in peace with his usually smile and now is not the time to talk nonsense.”

Hagler is considered to be one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time. He reigned as the undisputed middleweight champion from 1980 to 1987, which is the third-longest unified championship reign in boxing history. One of his most impressive victories came against Hearns, the same fighter who would later spark the COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories surrounding Hagler’s death.

Hearns has since attempted to make amends with the Hagler family, stating in an Instagram post that the family should “consider this an apology for any negative feelings that was brought to life.”

Hagler is not the first former athlete whose death has been used to propagate anti-vax campaigns. Former MLB player Hank Aaron passed away nearly three weeks after being vaccinated earlier in January 2021, which led to anti-vaxxers claiming that his death was linked to the vaccine’s after effects. At the time, Georgia Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey stated that there was “no evidence” that Aaron’s death was related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 109 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through March 15, 2021. During that time, there were 1,913 reports of death (0.0018%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. However, reports of deaths following vaccinations do not necessarily mean the vaccine caused the death.