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Morrison Prepares To Tell Story, Pressure Builds For AIDS Testing

February 14, 1996

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ As Tommy Morrison prepared to publicly tell his story about the AIDS test that shook the boxing world, pressure was building for mandatory testing of boxers in other states.

Morrison on Tuesda scheduled a Thursday news conference in Tulsa, Okla., to discuss his positive test for HIV that led to his immediate suspension from boxing worldwide.

Boxing officials in both California and New Jersey, meanwhile, called for their states to begin testing fighters for AIDS despite medical opinions that the odds of contracting the virus in the ring were infinitesimal.

``I would love to announce within a week or so that New Jersey is testing,″ said Larry Hazzard, New Jersey’s boxing director. ``I’m totally in favor of it. What happened before when we tried is we ran into these laws on civil rights and disabilities and rights to privacy.″

In California, where a boxer who tested positive for HIV in Nevada in 1991 later fought twice under an assumed name, the head of the California Athletic Commission called on legislators to put aside political pressure and force fighters to get tested.

``I hope we can get a bill passed in California before something major happens in this state, before some documented transmission occurs in a boxing ring,″ Richard DeCuir said. ``We are hoping that the Tommy Morrison situation will persuade somebody in the legislature to carry the commission’s bill.″

The confirmation Monday of Morrison’s positive test prompted referee Mills Lane to go to his doctor in Reno, Nev., and have blood drawn to make sure he didn’t get the virus. Lane said the test came back negative Tuesday.

Lane was the third man in the ring in Morrison’s Oct. 7 loss to Lennox Lewis in Atlantic City, in which he was cut around both eyes in the second round and bled much of the way before the fight was finally stopped in the seventh round.

``I had blood all over me,″ Lane said Tuesday. ``He bled all over me and everyone else.″

Lane, a state judge in Reno who has refereed 78 title fights, said he was unaware at the time that New Jersey was one of the many states that don’t require boxers to take tests for the AIDS virus. It is not known if Morrison had the virus at the time he fought Lewis.

While Lane went in for an AIDS test, Lewis remained at his remote mountain retreat in Jamaica, where promoter Dino Duva said it was very difficult to reach him.

Duva said Lewis is schedule to be tested for AIDS next month in Britain as part of that country’s requirements for his annual boxing license.

``I assume that’s what he will do,″ Duva said. ``I don’t think he’ll rush it. The risk if very small, from what I understand.″

Morrison, meanwhile, was to get results Wednesday of a second set of tests taken Monday to confirm the Las Vegas test.

His promoter, Tony Holden, said agents for Morrison and Magic Johnson were arranging a telephone call between the two. Holden said it would likely be a personal discussion of how to deal with the illness and the media attention.

``Magic is probably the best person to talk to him right now,″ Holden said.

Former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe said, however, that basketball and boxing are far apart when it comes to an HIV infected athlete being allowed to compete. Bowe was to fight Morrison last year, but got a third fight with Evander Holyfield instead.

``I think it’s great for people like Magic Johnson to have the opportunity to come back and play basketball, doing what he does best,″ Bowe said. ``But as far as boxing is concerned, unlike other sports, it’s bloody and violent and the risk is far too great for fighters to contract the virus through physical contact. I would not fight someone who is HIV positive. It would just be too great a risk for me, my wife and children.″

The aftermath of Morrison’s admission affected not only his former opponents and referees, but much of the boxing world as an outcry grew for mandatory AIDS testing of all boxers.

Nevada’s top boxing official said he will push to have other states begin testing like Nevada, which has tested some 2,100 boxers since beginning its AIDS program in 1988.

Nevada is one of only a handful of states that currently require AIDS testing.

``We test about 200 to 300 boxers a year but there’s another couple of thousand that aren’t tested and are fighting in a blood sport in other states,″ Marc Ratner said. ``It doesn’t make sense. But sometimes it takes something like this to shock the world. Maybe this will be a catalyst for the rest of the states.″

Ratner, president of the Association of Boxing Commissions, said he would push for mandatory testing at the association’s annual meeting in June.

DeCuir said he has been trying to get legislation passed for three years to require testing in California, which held 89 fight cards last year. But he said no legislators have been willing to sponsor a bill mandating testing because the issue is politically charged among AIDS activist groups.

``To date, the legislators we have contacted have not been interested in carrying this issue because in this state, it is very volatile,″ he said.

Lane said he, for one, supported mandatory testing for fighters and praised Nevada for standing firm last week when Morrison at first refused to take the test.

``My belief is that it goes beyond referees and boxers and into any part of life,″ Lane said. ``If a person is carrying a disease or a virus that impacts other people, then that person owes it to those people to cough it up.″

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