Damar Hamlin 'body double' conspiracy theory spread by anti-vaccine advocates

Anti-vaccine advocates and supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory are claiming American football player Damar Hamlin died due to Covid-19 vaccination and was replaced with a clone or body double who watched the Buffalo Bills' January 22, 2023 playoff game. This is false; Hamlin is alive and has made public posts and appearances since his on-field collapse, and Bills quarterback Josh Allen described the conspiracy theory as "stupid."

"Damar Hamlin is dead and was cloned," says a January 23 tweet sharing a TikTok video viewed tens of thousands of times.

The post is one of several that have circulated across mainstream and fringe social media platforms.

Screenshot from Twitter taken January 25, 2023

Screenshot from Twitter taken January 25, 2023



The body-double claims took off after Hamlin, a 24-year-old Bills safety who suffered a cardiac arrest during a January 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, showed up to watch his team's playoff rematch.

Footage from the Bills and the National Football League (NFL), which shows Hamlin arriving at the stadium and gesturing to fans from a private suite, prompted speculation over whether the man was really Hamlin. The fact that he wore a mask contributed to the rumors.

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"This man looked ready to PLAY in that game on Sunday. Never took hood down, shades off or lowered mask," said far-right radio host Stew Peters, creator of a film that advanced numerous conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines, in one of several posts on Telegram. "This is FAKE."

Another tweet says: "#DamarHamlin is dead. #StoptheShotsNow." Similar posts circulated among Telegram channels and online forums associated with QAnon, a conspiracy theory centered on beliefs in a global sex-trafficking ring run by Satanic pedophiles.

But Hamlin was not replaced with a clone or body double at the January 22 game -- nor is he secretly dead.

"Yeah, that's stupid," said Josh Allen, the Bills' quarterback and co-captain, when ESPN podcast host Kyle Brandt asked about the claims during a January 24 interview. "One: That's Damar's swag. He likes wearing that. Two: He was in the locker room with us pre-game. So, yes, that was Damar."

He continued: "There's absolutely zero chance. That's the Damar Hamlin. That's our guy. That's our brother. He was with us pre-game, post-game -- he was up in the suite with his family, his little brother. One hundred percent."

Hamlin, who was discharged from hospital on January 11, appeared to poke fun at the claims, tweeting a photo of himself beside a mural with the caption: "'Clone.'"

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Hamlin seen in photos, video

In some corners of the internet, however, Hamlin's tweet appeared to fuel conspiracy theories that he had died.

"The actor playing Damar Hamlin is letting you know he's a clone," said one post on a QAnon forum.

But Hamlin previously shared other pictures from in front of the mural, as well as a photo from the hospital in Cincinnati.

While much of his recovery has remained private, Hamlin appeared in an image teammate Matt Milano posted to his Instagram story. He also had FaceTime calls with Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders, rapper Meek Mill and Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted January 19 that she too had a phone call with Hamlin.

After communicating with the Bills via video while in the hospital, Hamlin started visiting the team facility regularly as he continued his recovery from home, Sean McDermott told ESPN.

Jordon Rooney, Hamlin's marketing representative, tweeted that posts questioning whether Hamlin was really at the game are "simple-minded conspiracies."

AFP reached out to Rooney, Hamlin's agent Ira Turner, the Bills, the NFL and the NFL Players Association for comment, but no responses were forthcoming.

Website does not prove death

Some of the posts alleging Hamlin is dead include screenshots of what appears to be a death record with his name on SearchQuarry.com, a website that bills itself as a public records resource.

But the site has fueled misinformation before, and a disclaimer says: "Information obtained using SearchQuarry.com searches may not always be accurate and up to date as we do not create, verify, or guarantee the accuracy or the amount of information provided through our service."

The cause of Hamlin's cardiac arrest had not been made public as of 1900 GMT on January 25. However, cardiologists have hypothesized that it may have been a rare case of commotio cordis, in which a sudden blunt impact to the chest can cause cardiac arrest.

Turner, Hamlin's agent, told USA Today that claims of a connection to Covid-19 shots are "ridiculous."

Public health authorities say the vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe illness and death due to Covid-19.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about Hamlin's collapse here.