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Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

February 13, 1996, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section B; Page 9; Column 5; Sports Desk

LENGTH: 765 words

Morrison Confirms He Tested Positive


Tommy Morrison, the former World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion who was planning to fight Mike Tyson later this year, acknowledged yesterday that he had tested positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

In a statement read in Tulsa, Okla., by his promoter, the 27-year-old Morrison was quoted as saying: "I understand that there are several people concerned about me. I am fine. I feel it would be selfish to ask you to say a prayer for me."

Morrison, who was suspended worldwide because of testing positive, was at his home, about 50 miles outside Tulsa, and declined to be interviewed.

The promoter, Tony Holden, said that Morrison had learned about the test results on Friday night in Las Vegas, Nev., where he was to have fought Arthur Weathers on Saturday and earned $50,000. Holden said Morrison underwent a blood test with his own doctor yesterday. But an infectious-disease specialist, Dr. Jonathan Zenilman of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, said the accuracy rate on a positive H.I.V. result is greater than 99 percent.

There was no suggestion of how Morrison might have acquired the virus.

Morrison is the third world-class athlete in recent years to publicly say he has the virus, following Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and the former Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. Morrison is only the second fighter to test positive for the virus of the more than 1,500 whom Nevada has tested since instituting such procedures eight years ago.

"There is no data on transmission in a sports setting," Zenilman said. When asked about the different levels of danger in competing in, say, basketball and boxing, he said: "Boxing creates the greatest problem because there's so much blood splashing about. The major issue is transmission from blood to torn mucous membrane, which are in the eyes and nose."

Even football does not appear to present an overwhelming danger. Zenilman noted that in an article published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the risk projected was 1 in 85 million as a result of contact in a National Football League game. The report was based on a 1992 study in which an average of 3.7 blood injuries a game was detected.

Morrison's disclosure yesterday was virtually forced upon him after the Nevada Athletic Commission barred him only hours before he was to enter the ring. Two days earlier, Morrison had taken the test for H.I.V.

The Nevada commission's executive director, Marc Ratner, recalled yesterday that he had made H.I.V. testing mandatory in 1988 "because it's a blood sport more than any other sport."

Nevada is the only major boxing state that requires the test, which is nationwide in Britain. The New Jersey State commissioner, Larry Hazzard, said yesterday that while he was forbidden to test boxers for the virus, citing the state's confidentiality laws, he had started the practice some years ago that required the referee and corner men to wear rubber gloves.

New York and California, the major boxing states after Nevada and New Jersey, also have no mandatory testing of boxers.

Calls to the office of Floyd Patterson, New York State's new athletic commissioner, were not returned by last night. But the former commissioner, Randy Gordon, when reached, said he had tried to introduce legislation making pre-fight H.I.V. testing mandatory in the state and was turned down.

Morrison last fought on Oct. 7 when he was beaten soundly by Lennox Lewis, the former World Boxing Council champion. The fight was stopped in the sixth round after Lewis had bloodied Morrison's eyes and knocked him down four times.

However, Lewis said yesterday from Jamaica, where he was vacationing, that he did not intend to take an immediate blood test. As a British fighter, he must take an annual blood test, and his next one is scheduled in London next month.

In Morrison's seven-year career, he produced a 45-3-1 won-lost-tied record with 39 knockouts, and even with his knockout at the hands of Lewis, the promoter Don King felt he could sell a Morrison -Tyson bout.

Morrison's previous bout in Las Vegas was on June 7, 1993, when he won the vacant W.B.O. crown with a decision over George Foreman. Presumably, that was the last time Morrison was tested for H.I.V.

The commission reported yesterday that Morrison had originally balked when asked to take his mandatory blood test on Wednesday. According to the commission, he said that, as a Seventh-day Adventist, he was not permitted to give blood. There also was a matter of putting some final touches on the contract to meet Weathers.

GRAPHIC: Photo: Tommy Morrison says he would be selfish if he asked for prayers. (Reuters)