November 7, 1991. There are a few days where you just remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. This is one of them. This was the day Magic Johnson, one of the NBA’s brightest stars, announced to the world that he was HIV positive and essentially changed the face of the disease. At the time, it was widely believed that AIDS was a gay-disease (see: GRID), but as we now know, this disease can affect all human beings, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status (see: AIDS 2010 Conference Report).
Not too long ago, a positive diagnosis of HIV infection was considered a death sentence. Fortunately, with advances in bio-medical research, HIV does not have to be a death sentence. With a regimen of positive thinking, healthy eating, and exercising, the HIV virus can remain asleep. Of course, Magic Johnson continues to take antiretroviral drugs to keep the virus in check; and while it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that his money and fame is affording him access to all the latest and greatest therapies, this is not the case. According to Dr. David Ho, a prominent HIV/AIDS researcher, “What he gets, in terms of his therapy, is typical of what most American patients receive. So, he’s not the exception. He is the rule.” Hopefully within Magic’s lifetime, this rule is no longer one that applies only to first-world patients but to 33.3 million people around the world who live with this infection.
So much has changed in our collective understanding of HIV and AIDS. At the time of his announcement, many players’ sentiments mirrored those of the general public. The most notable of which are Karl Malone and Mark Price’s refusal to play with him in the 1992-93 NBA season, despite playing together on America’s 1992 Dream Team. With all the information available today, it is easy to demonize these players; however, if it weren’t for Magic educating us about this disease, we might still be in the Dark Ages. I’m glad that we now live in a world that is increasingly accepting of those with HIV/AIDS. Magic’s enthusiasm in embracing the role of “spokesman for the disease” is quite admirable and it would be difficult to quantify his contribution to this success. Using his celebrity status, Magic and the Magic Johnson Foundation have raised over $10million for research, testing, and scholarships. There are many student groups at Michigan dedicated to doing similar work in our local community and those around the world.
In his closing remarks yesterday, Magic acknowledged the progress that has been made in the past 20 years and calls us to make many more.
“There will always be great basketball players who bounce that little round ball, but my proudest moments are affecting people’s lives, effecting change, being a role model in the community.” – Earvin “Magic” Johnson.