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Edited by Jack McCallum
February 19, 1996
A New Foe Enters the Ring
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February 19, 1996


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A New Foe Enters the Ring

The revelation that heavyweight Tommy Morrison tested HIV-positive last week will force the boxing world to take a long, hard look into its bloody soul. NBA players seem to have accepted expert medical opinion that the probability of Magic Johnson's spreading the virus to another player during a game is infinitesimal, but a different standard applies in this bucket-of-blood sport. "The medical world feels comfortable that the chance of transmitting the virus in sports like football and basketball is remote," says AIDS expert Leonard Calabrese, who is the head of clinical immunology at the Cleveland Clinic, "but we can't feel that comfortable when it comes to boxing."

Experts believe that a boxer—or any athlete—is much more likely to contract the AIDS virus through a high-risk lifestyle than in competition. Still, few were surprised when Panos Eliades, promoter for Lennox Lewis, Morrison's most recent opponent, said last week that his fighter will get an HIV test. Lewis opened several cuts on Morrison's face before stopping him in the sixth round on Oct. 7 in Atlantic City (testing is not required in New Jersey). Heavyweight Damon Reed, who sparred with Morrison last year, has also said he will be tested.

The issue, of course, revolves around blood. The AIDS virus can be passed from an HIV-positive individual to an uninfected individual through a mucous membrane—such as the eyes or mouth—or through an open wound. Blood often spatters into a boxer's eyes and mouth during a bout and is spread during clinches. And it is common for even the winner to leave the ring with an open wound.

Is that enough of a risk for the U.S.—and other fight-loving countries—to mandate prefight HIV testing, which, as of now, is required only in a handful of states? Such testing would in many cases necessitate challenges to right-to-privacy laws. Nevada does require HIV testing, and though Morrison initially refused to be tested by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, he acceded when he was told he would not be allowed to enter the ring against Arthur Weathers unless he did so. When the results came back positive, the fight, which was to have been on the undercard of the IBF welterweight championship bout (page 30), was called off.

And if HIV screening were nationally mandated, at what level would it start? The Junior Olympics? The Golden Gloves? First-fight professionals? Would anyone pay for underprivileged fighters to be tested? And who would ensure the integrity of tests in a sport saturated with scoundrels?

Those are questions that may take a long time to answer. But after what has befallen Tommy Morrison, they are being asked with a new urgency.

As Exciting As Watching...
From a "media advisory" issued on Monday: "The St. Louis Cardinals will begin laying approximately 2.75 acres of new grass this morning. Installation of the new turf will take several days to complete. Any media member interested in covering this event is welcome at Busch Stadium."

He's a Hall of Famer, George

Dave Winfield was in Kathmandu once when somebody stopped him and asked about George Steinbrenner. Winfield's role as tormented foil to the New York Yankees' owner—like some humorless Punch and Judy act—followed him to the ends of the earth. It also obscured some of the brilliance of his epic career, which ended last week with his retirement at age 44.

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