FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been
specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The CHANCE project is making this
material available as part of our mission to promote critical thinking about statistical issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material
as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this
copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must
obtain permission from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1996 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved
SHOW: Nightline (ABC 11:30 pm ET)
February 13, 1996 04:00 Eastern Time
SHOW-TYPE: Show; Interview
SECTION: News; Domestic
LENGTH: 5295 words
ANNOUNCER: February 13th, 1996.
TED KOPPEL: [voice-over] Magic Johnson tests positive; now he's welcome on the court.
American soldiers test positive; but Congress wants them out. Boxer Tommy Morrison
tests positive; and he's forced from the ring. Reasonable risks or unreasonable
fears? Tonight, sports, blood and the specter of AIDS.
ANNOUNCER: This is ABC News Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.
TED KOPPEL: We've been talking about it and learning about it for the better part
of 15 years now, but the harsh truth of it is that most of us are more influenced
in our attitude toward AIDS by what we don't know than what we do. Our fears are
still governed by rumor and anecdotal evidence. It's not the statistical probability of death
that frightens us. If it were, we would stop drinking and smoking and driving. Each
of those activities causes tens of thousands of deaths in this country every year.
And look at how eager we were, for example, to deep-six the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit,
just a few weeks back. Now, that was saving thousands of lives, but never get between
an American and his right to drive fast.
No, some of us are rationing our concern for the statistically remote possibility
that a professional boxer - whose goal, after all, is to beat his opponent insensible
- may instead pass on HIV if he has tested HIV-positive. But if that were possible
in boxing, wouldn't it also be possible in football, where smashed-mouth blocking is sometimes
considered an art? And what, when all is said and done, made the folks in professional
basketball change their minds about the danger of playing with someone who's tested HIV-positive? Time, we thought, for another program on AIDS. Here's Nightline
correspondent Chris Bury.
1st SPORTS ANNOUNCER: And here comes Magic.
CHRIS BURY, ABC News: [voice-over] The return of Magic Johnson seemed even more
triumphant because his first comeback attempt ended in such a cloud of ignorance
and fear. This time, Magic became a national poster boy of a savvy new sensibility
and awareness about AIDS in sport and in society. It lasted less than two weeks.
SHO SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Former WBO heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison, who was
scheduled to fight Arthur Weathers on tonight's fight card, was suspended by the
Nevada State Athletic Commission.
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] Over the weekend, boxer Tommy Morrison was suspended,
hours before his scheduled fight against Arthur Weathers in Las Vegas. His promoter,
Tony Holden, broke the news.
TONY HOLDEN: Tommy Morrison has tested positive for HIV.
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] Last week, a new law that Republicans tacked on to a military
spending bill demands the dismissal of all in the military known to have the virus
that causes AIDS. Its author is Republican Robert Dornan.
Rep. ROBERT DORNAN, (R), California: People who stuck a filthy needle in their arm,
rolled up their white, khaki or blue sleeve to stick a needle in their arm and get
infected with the AIDS HI [sic] virus, and we're gonna give 'em an honorable discharge.
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] Though President Clinton reluctantly signed the bill, his
administration will not defend it in court. No wonder the country is still so confused.
1st RADIO TALK SHOW CALLER: This is not necessarily a death sentence. A significant
percentage of people never progress to AIDS or problems.
2nd RADIO TALK SHOW CALLER: What it's gonna take for people to wake up is Magic
Johnson and Dennis Rodman going at on the low post, and Rodman catching an elbow
in the mouth and catching HIV.
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] From frenetic fans to asphalt warriors, many remain unsure
about athletics and AIDS.
1st BASKETBALL PLAYER: I see the blood. If it's a bad cut, you know, I go in the
fieldhouse, you know, and get some alcohol, peroxide, pour on it, and then I'm done
2nd BASKETBALL PLAYER: I have more fear going out at a club, picking up some girl
I don't know, than playing basketball, banging around with these guys, you know?
CHRIS BURY: In society, as in sports, as in Congress, much of the confusion about
AIDS still stems from ignorance about how the disease is transmitted, but is the
risk any greater on the playing field or on the battlefield than in any other walk
2nd SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Karl Malone, bam, right there, with a right elbow.
3rd SPORTS ANNOUNCER: And there is a bad cut over the left eye of Richie Foster,
a river of blood.
4th SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Oh, Doug Wade with a body check. The Flyer is in the Rangers'
5th SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Oh, and Galley is bleeding.
4th SPORTS ANNOUNCER: That's right. And after that play, Galley ends up cut.
Dr. ALFRED SAAH, Johns Hopkins Medical School: The transmission associated with
sports is not measurable at this time, it is- it is so low. The likelihood that
transmission is going to occur from skin-to-skin contact, even with a little blood,
is extremely low, and very close to zero, but obviously not zero.
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] Dr. Alfred Saah, an AIDS specialist at Johns Hopkins
University, was enlisted to teach NBA players about the disease before Magic Johnson's
return to the Lakers.
Dr. ALFRED SAAH: The issue is not playing sports. The risk associated with HIV transmission
among individuals who are going to be playing sports is going to be represented by
their sexual activity or perhaps some of their drug use activity. It's not going to be from playing sports.
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] But is the risk greater in some sports than others? Is
it greater in the blood sports, boxing or wrestling, for example, than it is in
Dr. JONATHAN JACOBS, Cornell Medical Center: If there's any sport that we need to
be careful about, it is boxing, and I think we should look to make sure that everything
is done to minimize the potential for the spread of infectious diseases, including
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] At least seven professional boxers, including Tommy Morrison,
are now known to be HIV-positive, but boxing, like many sports, has no consistent
policy. Only Nevada, Oregon, Arizona and Washington test for AIDS; none of the
others does, including the three states with the most professional boxing, New Jersey,
New York and California.
BILL EASTMAN, California Athletic Commission: The California Athletic Commission
has sought legislation for the last three years, and have been frustrated because
the legislators get scared off because of the issue of political correctness surrounding
AIDS and HIV testing. Here we're looking at the benefit and the health and safety of
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] But in boxing, or any other sport, testing for HIV is no
Dr. ALFRED SAAH: The issue has to be that our athletes shouldn't be bleeding while
they're participating in sports. It's up to boxing to decide whether or not they
are going to have such an event occur, with blood splashing all over the place, as
opposed to a boxing match to determine who's a better boxer than who can cut somebody better.
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] In the NBA, sportswriters now call that the Magic Johnson
rule: bleeding players must leave the game. In football, trainers must wear gloves
when treating bleeding players, but no rules dictate when the wounded must leave.
The Olympic Committee rejected blanket testing for HIV, even after Greg Louganis revealed
he was infected during his diving accident in 1988. Now, individual Olympic sports
can make their own rules.
1st SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Oh, Magic, a head and shoulder fake, a standing ovation, listen
to the crowd.
CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] In the latest resurrection of his career, it is Magic Johnson's
hope that his newfound acceptance in the NBA will raise the public's tolerance for
all those with HIV. In a letter to Republican leaders in Congress, Johnson pleaded
to, quote, 'Stop ignorance, fear and prejudice from forcing...' HIV-positive military
personnel '...to retire from the jobs they love.' Petty Office Duane Ammison [sp?],
who would be forced out of the Navy because he is HIV-positive, is grateful.
Petty Ofc. DUANE AMMISON, USN: He has shown that there are healthy positives that
can go on and work and perform their duties, and I- you know, I give him a round
of applause for that.
CHRIS BURY: In this country, according to leading AIDS researchers, there is not
a single case of any athlete, amateur or professional, infecting another with the
AIDS virus during any sport, so the concern seems far out of proportion to the
risk, though the confusion may be inevitable. This is Chris Bury for Nightline, in Washington.
TED KOPPEL: When we come back, we'll try to sort out some of that confusion over
contracting AIDS with a leading AIDS specialist, a medical adviser to professional
basketball players, and an advocate for AIDS testing.
TED KOPPEL: Joining us now from our Washington bureau, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of
the country's leading AIDS researchers, and director of the National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. From our Los Angeles bureau, Dr. Michael Johnson,
head of the AIDS education program for the NBA Players Association. And from San Jose,
California, our affiliate there, KNTV, Bill Eastman, chairman of the California Athletic
Dr. Fauci, you and I have been talking about AIDS and the transmission of AIDS
for a good many years now. I think one of the reasons that people are still as concerned
as they are is because, over the years, some of what we have learned has changed.
There was a time when we did not think, for example, that AIDS could be passed on
between heterosexual partners. So is there, perhaps, a possibility that we may be
wrong also about how AIDS is passed on or how the HIV is passed on between and
Dr. ANTHONY FAUCI, National Institutes of Health: I think not. Even though there
was misconceptions about heterosexual transmissibility, the fact that it was a sexually
transmitted disease made it very clear that that was a possibility. What we're talking about now is really no change at all in our understanding of how the virus is transmitted.
It certainly can be transmitted by blood and blood products, but we're talking about
a very unusual situation that's the subject tonight, about blood from one person on a potential cut of another. That has always been known as a finite possibility,
but as we've seen in the piece, a very, very unlikely situation.
TED KOPPEL: Well, actually, that's a- that's a situation that I keep hearing doctors
talk about. What I see as much more likely is, let us say, blood that is sprayed
into the eyes or into the mouth, let's say, if someone has a cut inside his mouth,
and Dr. Johnson, I'm sure that this is a question you've been asked by some of the NBA
players who must have been concerned. What are the chances of that happening?
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON, National Basketball Players Association: Well, I think the
chances are very, very remote. They're so remote that you really can't measure them.
I mean, we first of all explain that there's no HIV in sweat. We explain that the
skin is an excellent barrier against HIV, and the only theoretical risk would be two cuts
that were to come together-
TED KOPPEL: No, maybe I'm not making or phrasing my question as well as I should
be. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that I have blood on my arm, a cut on
my arm, and I give someone a forearm and blood either splashes into his open eyes,
or into his mouth, and he may have a cut inside his mouth. Is it not theoretically possible
that HIV could be transmitted?
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: It is theoretically possible, but it remains incredibly unlikely,
and so unlikely that we really can't even measure that remote risk. And one of the
reasons that we explain in our education is because- because cuts bleed out, they
don't bleed in, and so it's unlikely that a cut would absorb enough blood to lead to
TED KOPPEL: And- and even if it came in through the eyes- in other words, if you've
ever taken eyedrops, very quickly you taste something in the back of your throat,
so there are little channels that move into the back of your throat. Could not blood
be transmitted that way?
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: Yeah, the mucous membranes are not the same barrier that skin
are, and there is a theoretical risk. But there would have to be enough of a dose,
i.e., enough blood in the right place, and stay there for long enough to lead to
infection, so all those things together make it a very remote possibility.
TED KOPPEL: Mr. Eastman, what's the concern?
BILL EASTMAN, California Athletic Commission: The concern is, on my part, that California
has more boxing matches than anyplace in the world, and our job is to protect the
professional boxer. My concern is, just as you stated, Mr. Koppel, that the commingling of blood, the commingling of blood and mucus, poses a threat. I don't care to
hear about statistics because nobody knows about it and the medical community has
been wrong for a great number of years now, and we could talk chapter and verse about
that. Certainly we're learning more now, but if there is risk, and there is risk with
the commingling of blood in a boxing ring, then I think our obligation is to test
and to safeguard the boxers.
TED KOPPEL: Let me- let me try and use, before we get to our two medical experts
here, let me just sort of fall back on a little bit of common logic. If we were
really concerned about protecting the health and welfare of boxers, we probably
wouldn't let them beat one another's brains out like that all the time.
BILL EASTMAN: You're absolutely right.
TED KOPPEL: I mean, it's- it is not exactly a sport that is designed for the welfare
of the athlete.
BILL EASTMAN: You're absolutely right, and that's why there is a commission in most
states, and that is to be able to best safeguard the athletes as we can. If we do
not have boxing legally, it's going to exist on barges and in warehouses like it
did in the 1920s. We need to control boxing, we have to monitor it closely, and certainly
no doctor and nobody in their right mind would recommend somebody to become a professional
boxer to trade punches, commingle blood and mucus with one another. But it's there, and it's reality, and we must deal with it.
TED KOPPEL: Well, I guess we are now going to have to talk about the statistical
probability, and Dr. Fauci, if- if you had the responsibility for a particular fighter
who has tested HIV-positive, and the responsibility for the man against whom he was
going to fight, could you, in all conscience, say, 'Sure, go ahead, there's no chance'?
Dr. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, again, you'd never be able to say there's no chance, but
I think it gets back to what we said before. The chance is infinitesimally small.
It is so small as in many respects to be nonmeasurable. If you want to be 100 percent
risk-free, I think the point you made is a very, very valid point. There are so many other
things that are- that could work to the detriment of a person, the chances of something
falling from the ceiling and hitting a boxer and injuring them are probably greater than the transmissibility by- by blood of HIV. And certainly, the point that you
made about the damage to the brain of a boxer in the ring so far exceeds by- by an
extraordinary magnitude the possibility of there being transmission, that I wouldn't
be considering- I mean, this would almost be a non-issue. I'd be worried about the boxer
for other reasons than for HIV transmissibility.
TED KOPPEL: Gentlemen, we have to take a break. Dr. Johnson, when we come back,
I'd like to hear what you were hearing from members of the NBA and- and how it is
you think you were able to convince them that the risks they face are small enough
that they have agreed to accept Magic Johnson, even though he is testing HIV-positive. We'll
be back in a moment.
TED KOPPEL: And we're back with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Michael Johnson, and Bill
Dr. Johnson, as I said just before the break, you must have had some fairly intense
questioning that- that you underwent as you went around the NBA.
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: Yeah, there have been a lot- there's been a lot of discussion
about it, and the program, as you know, has been in operation since 1991, so we've
had many sessions and many opportunities to discuss this with the players and their
families. And I think one of the key issues here is that the education has been ongoing,
repetitive and has gone about it in a bunch of different ways with role plays and
interactive exercises. So I think that it's unrealistic to think that everybody is
going to get educated with one session or one event, and I think the ongoing nature of it
has been telling. I think a good analogy for that is among health care workers. I
mean, many, many years ago there were a lot of doctors and nurses that refused to
take care of patients living with HIV, and that's virtually unheard of now. And I think that
progressive and ongoing education that health care professionals have been exposed
to has led to a situation now where that's virtually unheard of.
TED KOPPEL: What was the greatest concern of the- of the wives of NBA players?
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: Well, I think the wives, just as the players, just as anybody
else that we interact with in education, that everybody wants to know how it's transmitted,
how it's not transmitted, ways to prevent transmission, and HIV testing, and that whole issue of the window period comes up as well.
TED KOPPEL: Mr. Eastman, when we heard you before in the- in the prerecorded comment
that you made in Chris Bury's piece, you seemed to be suggesting that your- your
feeling is that we- we are getting more political correctness here, perhaps, than-
than medical precision. Is that a fair way of putting your point? BILL EASTMAN: That's
a fair way of putting the point, Ted, and it goes beyond that. It has scared off-
the political correctness has scared off politicians to the point where in past years
we haven't been able to get legislation out of the California assembly or senate. Hopefully,
this year I believe they're going to be heroes, because we've changed a lot of those
TED KOPPEL: Legislation on what now?
BILL EASTMAN: On testing for HIV, just like Nevada and three other states do.
TED KOPPEL: In- in the field of boxing.
BILL EASTMAN: Yes, sir.
TED KOPPEL: Would you recommend it in professional football, for example?
BILL EASTMAN: I wouldn't get into professional football. I think there's lesser
risks. You could take a continuum all the way from golf to boxing, and I don't think
anybody would argue that golf is near the bottom end of the continuum, and certainly
boxing is right at the top end.
TED KOPPEL: So, again, Dr. Fauci, I come back then to the- to the final point. If
we are talking here about statistics, the statistical probability, you'd say a better
chance that the- that the lighting fixture is going to come down and fall on the
fighter's head, but in terms of being able to offer any guarantee, any assurance-
Dr. ANTHONY FAUCI: No, you can't, you absolutely can't, and it would be foolish
to say that there's absolutely no chance. There's a finite chance, but as we've
said, it's a very, very small chance, infinitesimally small.
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: I think it's also important to point out that there really-
the whole idea, the whole concept of zero risk is something that just doesn't exist.
I mean, we have risk when we walk out of our door that we'll fall on the sidewalk
and crack our heads, get hit by lightning. The risk- if the risk in a sport was estimated
to be, say, one in a billion or whatever some of the numbers you hear floating around,
that's essentially zero, and there's no activity that's absolutely zero risk. So
this whole idea about reassuring us that there's zero risk and that mandatory testing eliminates
that risk, any risk that there would be, is just not true.
TED KOPPEL: Mr. Eastman, you're looking for that kind of assurance, though, aren't
BILL EASTMAN: No, I'm not, because even with testing there is not zero risk, and
we- we hear about fear, paranoia and everything else about HIV, and that's not what
this is about. This is a blood-letting sport, we want to make- take protections.
This is our prophylactic. At least we're getting some protection from the risk that does exist.
The idea of something falling and hitting on a boxer's head being more dangerous
than HIV is- is absolutely ludicrous. And we've heard from the medical community
in the past-
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: I don't see why that's ludicrous.
Dr. ANTHONY FAUCI: No, I don't see that's ludicrous at all.
BILL EASTMAN: Well, I can explain. I can explain why it is, because we don't have
enough history. They didn't close the bathhouses in San Francisco-
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: Well, there have been millions and millions of cases of HIV
infection across the world-
BILL EASTMAN: Yes, I understand that, and I've listened-
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: -and there have been studies done on thousands and thousands
of household contacts, and it's clear that HIV is not transmitted in quote-unquote
BILL EASTMAN: And Cal OSHA keeps things from falling out of ceilings onto prizefighters'
heads. The point is, the medical community has felt their way through this, and we
didn't think we could get it from dentists before, and now we find out we can.
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: Well, I think that- I think- well, no, I don't think that that's
an accepted fact at all, but I think it is very important to mention OSHA in this,
because the NBA, as you mentioned earlier, Ted, has put in rules, as most major sports have, which basically mirror infection control practices in a hospital, and that's
a very reasonable thing to do, to lower what is already an incredibly low risk even
less. And I think boxing does have a tough job on its hands, to see how the sport
can adapt to controlling blood in a more effective way. But mandatory testing is not the
sort of easy, quick-fix solution that it seems like it is.
TED KOPPEL: All right, gentlemen, we have just about run out of time, so I thank
you. I guess, as long as we are only talking about boxing now, it's still a relatively
small number of people who are going to be involved in it, and to the degree that
progress is being made in basketball and in other sports, maybe there is a great deal of
hope after all. I thank all of you for joining us this evening, Dr. Johnson, Mr.
Eastman, Dr. Fauci. Thank you.
Dr. MICHAEL JOHNSON: Thank you.
Dr. ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you.
BILL EASTMAN: Thank you, Ted.
TED KOPPEL: I'll be back in a moment.
TED KOPPEL: Tomorrow, on Good Morning America, why more students are claiming, falsely,
that they have learning disabilities in order to get special assistance at college.
That's tomorrow, on Good Morning America.
And that's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here
at ABC News, good night.
The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the
text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid distribution
and transmission deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against videotape.