Twenty five years to the day have passed since tennis legend Arthur Ashe passed away.
Before his death, Ashe stood dignified and devastated, dressed in a gray suit and burgundy tie, hand to forehead and in the most poignant moments, handkerchief to his eyes, and admitted to the world that he had AIDS.
He leaned into an overloaded bank of microphones and in his soft-spoken, understated way, said, “Beginning with my admittance to New York Hospital for brain surgery in September 1988, some of you heard that I had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. That is indeed the case.”
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Ashe’s announcement came five months after Magic Johnson rocked the sports landscape by revealing he was HIV positive and walking away from the Los Angeles Lakers. But Ashe’s confession, that he likely contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, was all the more shocking.
In April 1992, AIDS was still widely considered the “gay curse” or the consequence of promiscuous sex or intravenous drug use. But here was a buttoned-down, well-educated, heterosexual man, married to a beautiful woman, with a 5-year-old daughter, standing there revealing his own death sentence. Ashe made it feel like it could happen to anybody.
The drug cocktail that treats the effects of AIDS was still four years away from being discovered. Just mention of the HIV virus evoked a unique kind of fear and paranoia. People infected with HIV were ostracized. AIDS was a modern-day leprosy.
Ashe broke with emotion when he got to the part of his three-page prepared statement about how his diagnosis affected his daughter, Camera. After minutes without a word, Ashe’s wife Jeanne had to finish his thought, saying, “Arthur and I must teach her how to react to new, different and sometimes cruel comments that have very little to do with her reality.”
This article was written by Carroll Rogers Walton with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Cox Media Group