Conspiracy theorists are spreading disinformation that a vocally anti-vax NHL player who got a rare heart defect from COVID-19 actually got the condition because he was secretly injected with a vaccine.
The spread of the conspiracy theory about a professional athlete went from a failed politician and YouTuber “asking questions,” to social media conspiracy theorists, to a sitting provincial politician in Canada in just one day. Its quick spread shows just how easy these kinds of conspiracies can be laundered.
This weekend the Edmonton Oilers announced that Archibald, a depth player on their club, was out indefinitely because he had contracted myocarditis after fighting off a case of COVID-19 earlier this year. Archibald had already made waves when the news came out of the Oilers training camp that he refused to get vaccinated, making him one of the few players in the NHL to not get vaccinated. The NHL has not mandated vaccines outright but has estimated 98 to 99 percent of players are vaccinated.
The Oilers found out about Archibald’s condition last week as he was leaving his quarantine period after travelling to Edmonton for the start of training camp.
“He tried to skate a few days. They did a bunch of tests, and the tests showed at some point he had contracted COVID,” said Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett at a Sunday press conference. “He got a bunch of blood work done and he’s been diagnosed with the myocarditis.”
Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. Alex Stalock, a goaltender in the Edmonton Oilers system, also contracted myocarditis, likely as a result of COVID-19. While myocarditis has been used by many anti-vaxxers for fear-mongering about the vaccine, there is a higher risk of myocarditis from COVID itself than there is from the vaccine. Some (limited) data does point to athletes getting myocarditis from COVID-19 at a higher rate than non-athletes. The condition is a serious one that leaves both Archibald’s and Stalock’s careers in jeopardy.
Archibald has not openly endorsed anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, but he’s tweeted out several things that suggest what his views are, including a now-deleted YouTube video dubbing COVID a “plandemic.” Sports media connected to the team have dubbed him an anti-vaxxer, written scathing columns about him, and reported he was staunchly refusing to get vaccinated. Archibald has not spoken publicly since his views nor condition came to light.
None of these matter to conspiracy theorists, however, who quickly took to social media to use Archibald’s case as proof of a nefarious plot.
“Oilers’ Archibald diagnosed with myocarditis, out indefinitely,” tweeted Randy Hillier, a sitting member of Ontario’s provincial parliament, Monday evening. “Another young man struck down by the inoculation? Appears that myocarditis is increasing for unexplained reasons #sarcasm.”
Hillier sits as an independent after being kicked out of the Conservative caucus ages ago. He’s been deep in the rabbit hole of anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown quackery for some time now. Even after several people corrected him Hillier would not correct the record.
It was a full day before Hillier amplified the conspiracy that it started to gain traction. While the idea was floating around the dumber part of the internet since the Archibald news broke, it began to gain real steam via a former People’s Party candidate. Viva Frei, a YouTuber and lawyer, asked an outlet, who wrote a rather neutral article on the subject, to “put aside the political spin and just give us the facts.”
“Josh Archibald had COVID this summer. OK,” wrote Frei on Twitter Sunday. “Did he also get vaccinated as is per NHL requirements, and if so, when?”
Again, the vast majority of stories Archibald clearly state he was unvaccinated. This is not hard information to find. After some pushback, Frei moved on without clarifying the record nor deleting his posts and many used that as a jumping-off point to spread the idea Archibald secretly got the vaccine.
To clarify, it’s not a requirement for NHL players to get the vaccine, but the consequences for not getting it are punitive, such as restricted movement while on the road. Despite this, several players, including Detroit Red Wings star Tyler Bertuzzi, remain unvaccinated. Some teams have hardline rules for being vaccinated, like the Columbus Blue Jackets, who decided to release a player they signed because he wasn’t vaccinated (they will still honour his contract). While it’s been reported that Oilers general manager Ken Holland and head coach Tippet actually met with Archibald to try and convince him to get the shot, the team does not have any mandatory vaccine requirements.
From the people just “asking questions,” the conspiracy quickly moved to those who don’t mind simply making things up. Chris Saccoccia, an anti-vaccine social media personality better known as Chris Sky, picked up on the story Monday morning.
“Took jab. Career over. COVID would not do this,” tweeted Saccoccia. He offered no proof that Archibald got the shot but did provide a variety of insults to those (including his fans) that asked him for proof—including “lying bitch,” “lying loser,” and “lying piece of shit.”
“Yea [sic] its [sic] a coinidence [sic] he was threatened with losing 1 miion [sic] dollars wqs [sic] perfectly healthy and then all of sudden got the number 1 side effect from the jab,” Saccoccia wrote on Twitter. “And you don't think they will pay money to cover it up, because it exposes them. People with a brain call this common sense.”
His blatantly false tweet about Archibald's illness was retweeted more than 2,000 times and liked over 4,000 times. Half a day later, Hillier picked up on the thread and sent his tweet out, which was likewise tweeted hundreds of times.
Despite a plethora of sources proving it wrong, and only two days after it initially broke, the conspiracy that the anti-vax Archibald was threatened, got vaccinated secretly, quickly contracted myocarditis, and then took a payout to not make vaccines look bad is now fully out there. It’s appeared in Telegram groups, on 4chan, on Twitter, of course, and is probably only weeks away from being used as “examples” of people getting myocarditis from the vaccine.
As conspiracy influencers typically do, Saccoccia merely moved on when a new topic tickled his fancy (as did Hillier). Both tweets are still up on their accounts, which many people out there consider purveyors of the real information.
After seeing the false info his camp is spreading about him, maybe Archibald will think twice about where the information that fuels “plandemic” conspiracies come from.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.