Fact Check

Does Video Show Biden Confusing Pope Francis for a Famous Black Baseball Player?

The viral clip was taken from a longer video documenting an encounter between Biden and Francis in 2021.

Published July 5, 2023

 ( Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images
A viral video authentically showed U.S. President Joe Biden telling Pope Francis, "You're the famous African American baseball player in America."

While the video was authentic, it was clipped from a longer video to make it seem like Biden's comment about Satchel Paige, an African American baseball player who died in the 1980s, was in reference to Francis himself.

In early July 2023, social media users shared a video clip in posts that claimed it showed U.S. President Joe Biden telling Pope Francis, "You're the famous African-American baseball player in America." The posts implied the clip was evidence of the 80-year-old president's allegedly declining cognitive skills.

The video was authentic. In other words, it was not the result of digital manipulation or CGI technology. However, it was misleadingly cut from a longer video documenting Biden's interaction with Francis, removing necessary context surrounding Biden's comment about "the famous African-American baseball player in America." In reality, Biden was telling a story about aging in which he mentioned Satchel Paige, a Black baseball player who played the sport late into his 50s.

(Twitter user @dom_lucre)

The video showed Biden's meeting with Francis on Oct. 29, 2021, to discuss topics such as climate change, poverty, and the coronavirus pandemic. The shortened clip that was misleadingly shared as evidence of the president confusing Francis for "the famous African American baseball player" circulated shortly after that meeting, and again in July 2023.

Shortly before Biden's visit, the Vatican canceled live TV broadcasts of the meeting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Afterwards, though, recordings of the meeting were shared by various media outlets, such as Reuters and C-SPAN. They showed Francis greeting members of Biden's entourage and the two parties exchanging gifts. Biden gave Francis a coin with the U.S. seal on its front saying, "I know my son [Beau Biden] would want me to give this to you because of the back of it. It has the state of Delaware, the 261st unit my son served with."

After that, Biden said something that was not audible, followed by, "the famous African American baseball player in America." Some social media users claimed that the sentence started with the word "you're," though that was not certain. Due to the inaudibility, the sentence could also have begun with "there was" or any number of phrases.

The misleading clip showed a person standing between the two men, supposedly questioning whether Biden had just called the pope an African American baseball player. In reality, the woman  in the video was Elisabetta Savigni Ullmann, an interpreter directly translating Biden's words from English to Italian.

Additionally, right after the in-question sentence, the president said, "And he didn't get to play in Major Baseball League until he was 45 because he was Black," referring to Paige. "He was a pitcher," Biden continued, mentioning Paige by name. Here's a transcription of the interaction, according to CNN:

BIDEN: (INAUDIBLE) the famous African-American baseball player in America.

POPE FRANCIS: I know. I know.

BIDEN: And he didn't get to play in the Major League Baseball until he was 45 years old because he was black. And he was a pitcher. He threw the ball. And usually pitchers lose their arm when they're 35. He pitched to win on his 47th birthday. The press walked into the locker room and said -- his name was Satchel Paige. They came and the guy said, Satch, no one's ever pitched to win at age 47. How do you feel about pitching a win on your birthday? And he looked at them and he said, boys, that's not how I look at age. I look at it this way. How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were? You're 65. I'm 60.

Francis is often a target of online misinformation. In April 2023, for example, social media users shared fake images of him allegedly shaking hands with "satanic priests." The photos were created by artificial intelligence (AI) software that generates images from text prompts. 

Another viral photo supposedly showing Francis in a white puffer jacket surfaced a month earlier, in March 2023, and was also AI-generated. 

pope francis in a puffer jacket, an ai-generated fake image

If you're ever unsure about the legitimacy of a photograph or video on social media, don't hesitate to send it to us.



Redazione. 'Chi è Elisabetta Savigni Ullmann, l'interprete ufficiale della Casa Bianca'. Open, 18 Oct. 2019, https://www.open.online/2019/10/18/chi-e-elisabetta-savigni-ullmann-l-interprete-ufficiale-della-casa-bianca/.

Directory Pairs - AIIC. https://aiic.org/client/roster/clientRosterDetails.html?clientId=2075&clientRosterId=47&no_header=true&name=Elisabetta-SAVIGNI%20ULLMANN. Accessed 5 July 2023.

'Vatican Cancels Live TV Broadcast of Biden Greeting Pope'. AP News, 28 Oct. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-pope-francis-europe-world-news-religion-d07155e1386a6edd78206ea13139b89a.

Biden Meets Pope, as Abortion Debate Flares. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzRXgB9JPsE. Accessed 5 July 2023.

President Biden Meets with Pope Francis | C-SPAN.Org. https://www.c-span.org/video/?515710-101/president-biden-meets-pope-francis. Accessed 5 July 2023.

Aleksandra Wrona is a reporting fellow for Snopes, based in the Warsaw area.