In a 2012 documentary, Magic Johnson discussed his HIV diagnosis and how it has affected his career. Social media posts are sharing an image from the documentary to falsely claim it shows Johnson donating blood for people with COVID-19. Johnson hasn’t donated HIV-infected blood for any medical reason.
Due to a drop in blood drives during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a nationwide blood shortage, the American Red Cross issued an urgent call for donors in January to replenish the blood supply.
Recently, posts on social media have been sharing an old photo of retired NBA superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson, falsely claiming that he is donating blood to the Red Cross for people with COVID-19.
“Earlier today, NBA legend Magic Johnson donated some of his blood to the Red Cross to help underprivileged communities help fight COVID-19,” read a post shared on Instagram on Aug. 20.
But the photo featured on social media came from a 2012 documentary, “Endgame: AIDS in Black America,” that aired on PBS’ “FRONTLINE” in which Johnson discussed his HIV diagnosis. (The image appears in the film between 1:06:00 and 1:08:20.)
The image, which was also posted by NPR in 2012, shows Dr. David Ho, an HIV/AIDS specialist and Johnson’s doctor, drawing blood from the basketball legend to conduct medical tests and discuss treatment — not to donate.
Update, Aug. 23: Johnson addressed the false claim in a tweet on Aug. 23. “I’m aware of the false story circling the internet, and to be clear, I have never donated blood,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson, who has been a key figure in raising AIDS awareness, can’t donate blood for any medical reason.
The American Red Cross does not accept blood donations from HIV-positive donors because the virus can be transmitted through blood.
“Do not give blood if you have AIDS or have ever had a positive HIV test, or if you have done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV,” the Red Cross website says.
The Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for maintaining the safety of blood donations, prohibits collection centers from accepting blood from those who have tested positive for HIV. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention routinely screens donated blood for the virus.
The recent social media posts are an updated version of posts that falsely claimed in 2021 that Johnson was donating blood to COVID-19 patients and in 2015 that Johnson was donating blood to leukemia and lymphoma patients.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
American Red Cross. “Medical Conditions that Affect Eligibility.” Accessed 22 Aug 2022.
Fresh Air Podcast. “AIDS In Black America: A Public Health Crisis.” NPR. 5 Jul 2012.
Link, Devon. “Fact check: Posts use 2012 photo of Magic Johnson to falsely claim he donated blood.” USA Today. 16 Feb 2021.
Mikkelson, David. “Did Magic Johnson Donate Blood to Leukemia and Lymphoma Patients?” Snopes. 19 Feb 2015.
Moughty, Sarah. “20 Years After HIV Announcements, Magic Johnson Emphasizes: ‘I Am Not Cured.’” FRONTLINE. 7 Nov 2011.
Terrence Higgins Trust. “How HIV is transmitted.” 31 Oct 2020.
Treisman, Rachel. “The Red Cross says there’s a blood shortage nationwide. Here’s how you can help.” NPR. 11 Jan 2022.