LS: That's kind of a sore point. I don't feel comfortable talking about him.
SI: Let's talk about an athlete who's not one of your clients, Magic Johnson. He got tremendous public sympathy after revealing that he was HIV-positive. Magic claims he's strictly heterosexual. How would the public have reacted if he'd said he was gay?
LS: It would have been devastating. Homosexuality is the last great largely unexamined taboo in the sporting world. In all my years as an agent, I can't recall an active professional player acknowledging he was gay—which, if the Kinsey Report is true, shows how repressed and scared gay athletes must be. If Magic had said he was gay or bisexual, it would have shattered the perception of sports as a male, macho bastion. The public would have reacted with disillusionment, scorn and hostility, but eventually that would have been replaced by understanding and compassion.
SI: Would his sponsors have deserted him?
LS: The nature of business is to shy away from controversy. Advertising dollars are spent to bring favorable publicity. It would have been difficult to convince business executives to weather the storm.
SI: Would you advise a gay athlete with HIV to go public?
LS: From the standpoint of short-term self-interest, no. From the standpoint of breaking longtime stereotypes, yes. Going public would force the athlete into a series of confrontations and reevaluations that might be difficult to deal with—especially while facing up to the grim reality of his illness. He'd have to balance the possible positive impact on fellow gays and society against the potential discrimination, the loss of endorsement contracts and his ability to make a living.
SI: You think an athlete who is HIV-positive would still want to compete?
LS: I've never met an athlete who didn't want to come back from an illness or injury. It was difficult for me to convince Neil Lomax not to return as quarterback of the Phoenix Cardinals after he'd had a hip replacement. As bright as some athletes are, there are things they don't want to hear.
SI: Such as?