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The Sporting Repercussions

The Sporting Repercussions


Heavyweight boxing pro Tommy Morrison learned received an HIV-positive test result in February 1996 only because Nevada'the state where he had a scheduled bout against Arthur Weathers'was one of four states at that time to require professional boxers to be screened for HIV antibodies. But the announcement of Morrison's test caused an uproar in the boxing world and spurred a rash of new HIV testing regulations across the country. Within a month of Morrison's test, nine other states had enacted mandatory HIV antibody testing requirements, and several other states moved to do so by the end of that year. Today, most states require pro boxers to be screened before they can be licensed to fight, as do the International Boxing Federation, the International Amateur Boxing Association, and the United States Boxing Association. But Morrison added even more fuel to the testing debate when, nine months after his announced retirement, he returned to the ring in Japan'which has no HIV restrictions on boxers'in a fund-raiser for the K.O. AIDS Foundation. While Morrison agreed to special rules for the bout'it would be halted for one minute if he began bleeding and be ended if the bleeding persisted beyond that'his comeback nevertheless drew widespread scorn from his peers. Although Morrison did have supporters, including former champ George Foreman, whom Morrison defeated in June 1993 to gain his boxing title, many pro fighters'including Ray Mercer, who knocked out Morrison in 1991, former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, David Tua, Darroll Wilson, and others'said under no circumstances would they fight an HIV-positive opponent. International Boxing Federation president Robert Lee went so far as to call Morrison's decision to return to the ring 'selfish,' and many sports writers echoed those sentiments. 'No boxer with this tragic condition belongs in the ring until such time as medical science KO's the AIDS virus,' a Rocky Mountain News editorial stated. Even Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin 'Magic' Johnson, who attempted a comeback of his own in the National Basketball Association after his retirement following an announcement that he was HIV-positive, said Morrison should stay out of the ring. Many medical experts say the odds of a boxer becoming infected while fighting an HIV-positive opponent are near zero. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports no such infections having ever occurred during a boxing match'or in any other contact sport. But that's not good enough, says Marc Ratner, who was executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and president of the Association of Boxing Commissions at the time of Morrison's positive test. 'Unlike any other sport, boxing is a blood sport. And any boxing match that you will go to you will see some kind of blood being spilled,' he told National Public Radio's All Things Considered. 'That's part of the game, and if a person is HIV-positive and there's any chance'even though it may be slim'that the blood could possibly infect another person, we are not willing to take that chance.'

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