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 with it.

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 of life?

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' [crosstalk].

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 basketball?

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 HIV.

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 the boxer.

CHRIS BURY: [voice-over] But in boxing, or any other sport, testing for HIV is no guarantee.

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.

[Commercial break]

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 Commission.

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 among athletes?

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 infection.

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.

[Commercial break]

TED KOPPEL: And we're back with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Michael Johnson, and Bill Eastman.

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 people.

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.


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 you?

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 'casual ways.'

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. ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you.

BILL EASTMAN: Thank you, Ted.

TED KOPPEL: I'll be back in a moment.

[Commercial break]

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.