Don’t let anti-vaxxers lie to you about Damar Hamlin like they did with NCAA referee

This wasn’t something you were going to read, because it wasn’t something I was going to write. Stupid me, I decided it was inappropriate. Stupid me, I decided it was unnecessary. Stupid me, I forgot just how many evil people there are in this world, and how many more gullible people with their own character flaws are out there, following them into the depths of hell.

But then Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on Monday Night Football, his heart stopping right there on the field.

The game was suspended, then postponed, giving us time to react on social media, which allowed evil people – these folks weren’t uninformed; this was evil – to blame this tragedy on the COVID vaccines that may have saved their own lives.

This has been happening, this petulantly and patently stupid reaction to vaccines, since shortly after they were made available in December 2020 and then, in many cases, made mandatory to travel or even work. People don’t like being told what to do. Don’t tell me I have to wear a helmet on my motorcycle; if I’m going to die, I’ll do it my way, in public, with passersby seeing what’s inside my skull. Don’t tell me I have to take a vaccine; if I’m going to die, I’ll do it my way, slowly suffocating in a hospital, using my final words to beg family members to take the vaccine after all.

No, this isn’t a story you were going to read. It’s a story I reported almost exactly one year ago, in January 2022, but decided not to write it because there was, finally, good news: COVID deaths in the United States were starting to fall. Slowly, restrictions were being eased. After nearly a year of death and dying and lockdowns and political ugliness, things were getting better.

It didn’t seem appropriate to write another angry screed. It would’ve been about NCAA basketball official Bert Smith, how he’d been used dishonestly as a pawn by the anti-vaccine movement to prove the unprovable: that COVID vaccines were causing healthy, athletic young men – men like Bert Smith, who fainted at Lucas Oil Stadium during the 2021 NCAA tournament game between Gonzaga and Southern California – to collapse or even die.

But then Damar Hamlin collapsed on Monday Night Football, his heart stopping right there on the field. And immediately, the evil among us blamed it on the COVID vaccine. Conspiracy theorists like Charlie Kirk and Grant Stinchfield. Politicians like Joey Gilbert of Nevada and Lauren Witzke of Delaware. A Twitter account devoted to this one piece of misinformation (“Died Suddenly”), created five weeks ago and already boasting more than 200,000 followers. All suggested the COVID vaccine nearly killed Hamlin.

They are evil, and need to be exposed for what they are. Those who believe them are gullible, and need to understand they’ve been told lies.

And I’m about to do it, quite easily.

Buffalo Bills players react as teammate Damar Hamlin is examined during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Remember NCAA ref Bert Smith’s collapse? Anti-vaxxers lied about it.

There was a video of young men going down, collapsing or keeling over. Seven clips in all. A Danish soccer player. A West Indies cricket player. Someone in tennis. Someone in badminton.

Bert Smith, on the basketball court at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The video is nonsense, showing these events with captions blaming each incident on the vaccine. The video is so awful the website Snopes felt the need to debunk it publicly, finding information – the opposite of misinformation – about six of the seven scenes. The one scene Snopes couldn’t debunk, because it just didn’t have enough information, was Bert Smith’s collapse.

Understand, you might not have seen this video. Probably didn’t, in fact, and good for you if not. It’s the kind of thing that makes the rounds in the online underworld, where people with their own issues look for things to make them feel better. Tired of being called “selfish” for refusing to take the vaccine that has pulled our world from the death grip of the pandemic? There’s a story or video for you somewhere to make you feel better.

Hey, here’s a video of of an NCAA basketball official collapsing after taking the vaccine. See what can happen? See what Big Government is trying to do you? They’re just using people – call them what they are: sheople – to line the pockets of Big Pharma. The government gets kickbacks, you know. Politicians are getting rich while Pfizer and Moderna perform science experiments on those gullible fools. Don’t fall for it!

These are the videos that pop up on our feeds because Facebook’s algorithm knows exactly what we’re looking for. Want actual information about the war in Ukraine? Here are stories about that sadist Putin, bombing hospitals. Want to read about the COVID vaccine being a hoax?

Here’s a video of Bert Smith collapsing.

Want to know the truth?

Let’s call Bert Smith and ask him.

Damar Hamlin, like Bert Smith, is not your political prop

He doesn’t get angry. Not the Bert Smith I know, and I’ve come to know him a little bit since he fainted in front of me on March 30, 2021, during Gonzaga’s victory against USC, when Lucas Oil Stadium was almost completely empty – no fans – and BOOM, that’s the sound of Bert Smith’s head bouncing off the hardwood floor.

It looked like he died, right there, eyes open but not seeing, but after several scary moments he sat up and left the floor on a stretcher. The game continued. Smith went to an Indianapolis hospital that night, and was discharged. He didn’t officiate again that tournament, though he’s been back on the court since last season.

Doyel:NCAA tournament fall didn’t kill referee Bert Smith. It saved his life.

Nine months after that night at Lucas Oil Stadium, someone sends me a video. A reader. Someone I don’t know, someone who apparently knows my stance on the life-saving need for us to do our part and get vaccinated.

(Quick aside: Why do people think we finally emerged from the darkest days of the pandemic after the vaccine rollout? Herd immunity? How do you think we got it?)

Official Bert Smith is rolled off the court on a stretcher after collapsing on the court during a game between Gonzaga and USC in the Elite Eight round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.

Official Bert Smith is rolled off the court on a stretcher after collapsing on the court during a game between Gonzaga and USC in the Elite Eight round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.

This reader, this anti-vaxxer, is gloating. His Facebook feed is trash, obviously, which is why Facebook’s algorithms thought he’d enjoy the video of seven athletic young men collapsing after being vaccinated. The reader wants me to see how wrong I’ve been. Stupid me, I watch the video. And is that …

Is that Bert Smith? The video says he collapsed shortly after being vaccinated. Says it right there on the captions. Captions don’t lie.

I call Bert. We catch up for a minute – I’d written about him the night of his collapse, and called him 10 days later to write an update story – and then I tell him about the video. About his clip. About the captions.

About the vaccine.

Doyel:Referee Bert Smith got to hear ovation of a lifetime

He doesn’t get angry. Not the Bert Smith I’d come to know. Only, he’s getting angry now. It’s a quiet anger, seething, as he comes to grips with what I’ve just told him: Anti-vaxxers are using his darkest moment, his death scare on national television, to promote their agenda.

He’s quiet for several seconds. I wait. He starts talking.

“That’s crazy,” he finally says, then goes silent. Several seconds pass.

“First of all,” he says, “I didn’t know until you just informed me. I don’t appreciate people saying things about me that are not true. I’m not against vaccinating. I feel everybody has to make their own choice, but I’m a firm believer in having an additional layer of protection. My first vaccine was …”

He pauses again. He’s going through his records.

“Here it is. My first vaccine was April 6, second May 4, booster on Dec. 23. I went down on March 30.”

He pauses. How could his collapse on March 30 have been caused by a vaccine he didn’t take until a week later? He continues, listing his issues with what I’ve just told him.

“First of all,” he says again, “I don’t like misinformation being out there. That’s No. 1. No. 2, as you know, my fall had nothing to do with a vaccination. And No. 3, I didn’t get vaccinated until after the season concluded, so for someone to think that there was any connection between the two …”

Another pause. He’s seething. I can hear it.

“That’s totally false.”

I ask Bert if I can write about this, and after thinking for a few moments, he agrees. He’s a private man, Bert Smith, but this is wrong. He gives me permission, but it’s late January, the middle of the 2021-22 basketball season, and the games are coming fast. No time to write it just yet.

A few weeks later the pandemic starts to ease. The world is trying to move on. Hey, same here. I call Bert and tell him I’m letting it go, for now. Maybe I’ll write it someday if it feels important, but I hope that day doesn’t come.

“Me too,” he says with a laugh.

Nearly a year later, the day has come. Because Damar Hamlin collapsed on Monday Night Football, and the ghouls came out to celebrate.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Anti-vaxxers using Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin to promote evil agenda

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