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Dangerous Games
E.M. Swift
November 18, 1991
In the age of AIDS, many pro athletes are sexually promiscuous, despite the increasing peril
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November 18, 1991

Dangerous Games

In the age of AIDS, many pro athletes are sexually promiscuous, despite the increasing peril

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Who's next? me? please not me, Lord. Please!

Once they got past their expressions of sadness, that, pretty much, was the reaction of male professional athletes to Magic Johnson's admission last week that he had acquired HIV. Johnson says he was infected through heterosexual activity, but let us not dress this up too much: Magic's history is one not just of sexual activity but of promiscuity. He doesn't know from whom he contracted the virus and, probably, couldn't begin to guess. His sexual partners have been, by all accounts, including his own, legion.

Nothing new in that. Wilt Chamberlain recently wrote in his autobiography A View from Above that since the age of 15 he has had sex with 20,000 different women—an average of 1.37 women a day for 40 years. Preposterous? Perhaps, but even if Chamberlain's ledger is off by a few thousand, he was one of the most visible athletes in the U.S. during the height of the sexual revolution, and he was not bashful about participating.

Far more astonishing in the age of AIDS is the assertion by a player in the NBA's Eastern Conference—not an All-Star and not yet 30—who estimates that he has slept with 2,500 different women, and counting. It isn't all boast. There are dozens like him in all the big pro sports. "Let's face it," says Seattle SuperSonics forward Eddie Johnson, "athletes are whores. We're paid to use our bodies. So sex becomes the same thing after the games. We become like dogs sometimes, and we all talk about the same women in every city. Just walk outside the locker room in any arena. The women arc all there waiting."

"You can get sex every night," says New York Mets infielder Kevin Elster. "On the road. At home. It doesn't matter. We're next in line, I guess, after the gays and drug users. The Magic thing has put fear into all of us."

Elster is correct that homosexual men and intravenous drug users are those most at risk of contracting AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control, out of the 174,000 recorded cases of men with AIDS in the U.S., nearly 113,000 contracted the disease through sexual contact with another man. Another 33,000 got it from intravenous drug use. Only 4,300 men—2.5% of the total number of cases—are believed to have acquired the virus through sex with a woman, as Magic says he did.

Elster's statement sidesteps the fact that there are gay athletes. It is likely that the percentage of homosexuals among male athletes is the same as it is among the general population, about 10%. And there is every reason to believe that free and easy sex on the road is just as available to the gay athlete as to the straight one.

There have long been rumors that Magic has had homosexual as well as heterosexual encounters, but he declared last week that he is not gay. However he acquired the virus, the odds are alarmingly high that he has unknowingly passed it along, because he seldom practiced what he will now preach—safe sex. He did not wear a condom. His wife, Cookie, has so far tested negative for HIV, which often takes months to show up in the bloodstream. But many other women have been with Magic, and a woman is 20 times more likely to become infected with the virus after having intercourse with an HIV-positive male than a man has of becoming infected after sex with an HIV-positive woman.

Obviously, whether you are male or female, heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, the odds of acquiring HIV increase with promiscuity—the more partners one has, the more likely it is that one of them will be infected. And, of course, the odds of a man encountering an infected woman increase if a man is active among women who are themselves promiscuous. Promiscuity is common enough among professional athletes. So is sharing partners. It is possible that there are other athletes who have already acquired HIV from the same source as Magic did. Or, chillingly, will contract the disease from someone who was infected by Magic.

Says George Andrews, who was Magic's agent during his first eight seasons in the NBA, "About five or six other players are puking in the sinks right now, what with the way some of these guys share women."

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