For the second time in six days, boxer Tommy Morrison was hit with a blow more devastating than any he ever took in the ring.
Shortly after 1 o’clock on Thursday afternoon, Morrison, surrounded by family, friends and associates on his ranch in Jay, Okla., was told that the result of a blood test administered by his chosen physician was the same as that determined last week by the Nevada State Athletic Commission: HIV-positive.
But this time, Morrison’s knees didn’t buckle. This time, he didn’t feel the shock he had when given the news Saturday, only hours before his scheduled fight against Arthur Weathers at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Hotel. Aware that the chance of an error in the Nevada test was only 3%, Morrison was resigned to his fate.
When he conducted a news conference one hour later, 85 miles away in the packed ballroom of a Tulsa hotel to talk about contracting the virus that causes AIDS, Morrison’s words and mood reflected his acceptance. Gone was the brashness he had shown through 49 professional fights, and a major role in a major movie, “Rocky V.”
“I lived a permissive, fast and reckless lifestyle,” said the 27-year-old Morrison, his voice halting at times. “I hope I can serve as a warning that living this lifestyle can really lead to only one thing and that’s misery. . . . I’ve never been so stupid in my life. I thought I was bulletproof and I’m not.
“If getting up here and confronting this problem out in the open can get just one person out there to take a more responsible attitude toward sex, then I would feel I scored my biggest knockout ever.
“I thought the real danger of contracting this rested in the arms of those who subjected themselves to a certain kind of lifestyle--addicts who share needles and people who practice a homosexual lifestyle.
“I honestly believed I had a better chance of winning the lottery than of contracting this disease. I’ve never been so wrong in my life. The only sure prevention of this disease is abstinence.
“This disease does not discriminate, and that is very, very clear to me now. It doesn’t matter if you live in a drug-infested ghetto in New York City or if you live on a ranch in Jay, Oklahoma. This is something that can jump up and bite you no matter where you are at. And it doesn’t matter what color you are.”
With Morrison’s parents, Tim and Diane, several other family members, and his fiancee, Dawn Freeman, seated nearby, clasping hands and trying to hold back tears, Morrison told reporters from around the country that he sees this disease as the product of his age.
“I realize there is a whole generation of kids out there like me that have totally disregarded the moral values taught to us by our parents,” he said. “We’ve somehow seemed to treat sex as a kind of social activity rather than a monogamous expression of love.”
Although he talked a great deal about sexual promiscuity, Morrison said he can’t nail down the specific source of his disease.
“I don’t know how I got it,” he said. “And it’s really not important. It’s what I do from this point on.
“I certainly believe that it is possible to pick it up fighting. I’ve had thousands of sparring partners over the years, 49 fights and I led a promiscuous lifestyle. Go fish.”
Morrison said that he has spent the days since learning of his condition informing anyone he had potentially damaging contact with--from sexual partners to corner men to sparring partners--of the results of his test.
Of those close to him who have been tested, including Freeman, none have received results showing the virus. But there is an incubation period of up to nine months during which the virus is undetectable.
“To those people, my prayers go out nightly to them and their families in hopes that everything will somehow be OK,” Morrison said.
“If there is anyone else out there who feels they came in contact with me, either directly or indirectly, I would truly encourage them to get themselves tested for their own sake and for their own peace of mind.”
Morrison said that, despite the diagnosis, he is optimistic.
“I don’t think I have a death sentence,” he said. “I really don’t. It’s puzzling. I’ve never felt more healthy in my life. Never had any symptoms whatsoever. I haven’t been sick in three years. I don’t feel sick. I don’t look sick. It’s puzzling.”
Although he said he hasn’t really had time to reflect on where he goes from here, Morrison said his phone conversation Tuesday night with the Lakers’ Magic Johnson, who has been HIV-positive for 4 1/2 years, has given Morrison some direction.
“At first, I just listened to him,” Morrison said. “I was a sponge and absorbed everything that he said.
“We talked in depth, about what we can do as a team and about what we can do as individuals to promote awareness to every single person out there, especially those of my generation.”
Finally, Morrison had a request for the public.
“I would like to ask everyone out there not to a say a prayer for me, but to say a prayer for the true victims of this disease, those being the HIV-infected children of this world,” he said. “I had a choice, but they don’t.
“And to all my young fans out there, I would ask that you no longer see me as a role model, but see me as an individual who had an opportunity to be a role model, but blew it.”
British heavyweight Lennox Lewis, the last man to fight Morrison, expressed concern for Morrison on Thursday but also said he is confident he was not exposed to HIV in the Oct. 7 fight at Atlantic City, N.J., during which Morrison’s face was badly cut.
Lewis, who will be tested at the end of this month as part of routine, compulsory screening in Britain, said he favors mandatory testing for all fighters worldwide.
Meanwhile, former world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, said his comments earlier in the week that he had “just heard of AIDS” had been misinterpreted.
Patterson, 61, said he knew first-hand the agony of AIDS since his brother died of AIDS complications almost a decade ago.
“I regret that some of my comments were misinterpreted,” he said. “The issue of AIDS in the boxing ring has been brought to the forefront by recent events. I’ve been associated with boxing for almost my entire life, but AIDS is a relatively recent phenomenon that is being addressed in all facets of our daily lives and boxing is no exception.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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45 wins (39 KOs), 3 losses, 1 draw
* Nov. 10-- William Muhammad (KO 1)
* Nov. 30-- Tony Dewar (KO 1)
* Jan. 12-- Joe Adams (KO 1)
* Jan. 17-- Elvin Evans (KO 1)
* Jan. 24-- Mike Foley (KO 1)
* Feb. 9-- Traore Ali (KO 4)
* Feb. 24-- Lee Moore (KO 2)
* Mar. 29-- Alan Jamison (KO 1)
* April 22-- Lorenzo Boyd (KO 2)
* May 14-- Mike Mc Grady (KO 1)
* June 11-- Rick Nelson (KO 2)
* June 25-- Steve Zouski (W 4)
* July 3-- Aaron Brown (W 6)
* Aug. 8-- Patrick Robinson (KO 2)
* Aug. 22-- Jesse Shelby (KO 2)
* Sept. 5-- Rick Enis (KO 1)
* Sept. 19-- David Jaco (KO 1)
* Oct. 17-- Harry Terrell (KO 1)
* Oct. 26-- Charles Hostettler (KO 1)
* Nov. 14-- Lorenzo Canady (W 6)
* Dec. 7-- Ken Lakusta (W 6)
* June 9-- Charlie Woolard (KO 2)
* Oct. 4-- John Morton (KO 5)
* Nov. 8-- Mike Acey (KO 1)
* Jan. 11-- James Tillis (KO 1)
* Feb. 20-- Pinklon Thomas (KO 1)
* April 19-- Yuri Vaulin (KO 5)
* June 27-- Ladislao Mijangos (KO 1)
* Oct. 16-- Ray Mercer (L 5)
* Feb. 16-- Bob Quarry (KO 2)
* March 20-- Jerry Halstead (KO 5)
* April 23-- Kimmuel Odum (KO 3)
* May 14-- Art Tucker (KO 2)
* June 27-- Joe Hipp (KO 9)
* Dec. 12-- Marshall Tillman (KO 1)
* Jan. 16-- Carl Williams (KO 8)
* March 30-- Dan Murphy (KO 3)
* June 7-- George Foreman (W 12)
(Won vacant WBO heavyweight title)
* Aug. 30-- Tim Tomashek (KO 4)
* Oct. 29-- Michael Bentt (L 1)
(Lost WBO heavyweight title)
* Feb. 20-- Tui Toia (KO 3)
* March 27-- Bryan Scott (KO 2)
* May 24-- Sherman Griffin (W 10)
* July 28-- Ross Puritty (D 10)
* Feb. 7-- Ken Merritt (KO 1)
* March 6-- Marselles Brown (KO 3)
* May 1-- Terry Anderson (KO 7)
* June 10-- Razor Ruddock (KO 6)
* Oct. 7-- Lennox Lewis (L 6)