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Tommy Morrison: ‘I Thought I Was Bulletproof, And I’m Not’

February 16, 1996

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Dressed in a black shirt and gray blazer, Tommy Morrison looked as strong and powerful as ever. What was new was the look of fear in his eyes.

The brute strength that served Morrison well in the boxing ring is of no help in his latest fight, a point that came through as he talked about contracting the AIDS virus.

His voice cracked at times and his face flushed as he announced Thursday that a second test for the AIDS virus had come back positive.

``I honestly believed I had a better chance of winning the lottery than contracting this disease,″ he said. ``I’ve never been so wrong in my life.

``I’m here to tell you I thought that I was bulletproof, and I’m not.″

Morrison entered the news conference composed and confident. But his voice faltered while he spoke of an uncertain future and expressed concern for his family and for women with whom he had relations.

``I hope I can serve as a warning that living this lifestyle can only lead to one thing,″ he said. ``And that’s misery.″

Morrison described a life of promiscuous sex and how he was ignorant about the way AIDS is transmitted. He also said, however, he believes he could have contracted the virus through bloody bouts in the ring.

``I don’t know how I got it and it’s really not important,″ he said.

Nearly five years ago, Morrison watched Magic Johnson announce he had the virus. The message didn’t sink in.

``I remember watching that on TV and thinking, `Boy, I wouldn’t want to live in LA,″ the boxer said later Thursday at the home of his promoter, Tony Holden.

Morrison said he had his first sexual experience at age 13 and by 1992, he was having one-night stands with women who flocked to him. Safe sex?

``I could have told you what it meant,″ he said. ``I didn’t practice it.″

The 27-year-old heavyweight from Jay, Okla., learned he had tested positive for HIV just before Saturday’s scheduled fight against Arthur Weathers in Las Vegas. Morrison said he had no symptoms and had received no notice from previous sex partners to indicate he might have the disease.

He spent the past week calling former sparring partners and sexual partners, encouraging them to take an HIV test. So far, none of them, including his girlfriend, has turned up positive, he said.

``My prayers go out to them nightly and their families that somehow everything will be OK,″ Morrison said.

The announcement of Morrison’s positive test prompted boxing officials nationwide to call for mandatory HIV testing. But the national Centers for Disease Control have received no reports of HIV transmission through athletics, spokeswoman Michele Bonds said.

But any time bodily fluids are exchanged there is a risk of transmission, she said. CDC studies of the NFL show the risk in that sport is extremely low.

While boxers are more likely to be bloodied during competition, ``it would take quantity and duration″ of exposure to the virus for possible transmission, she said.

As far as requiring AIDS testing for boxers, the CDC encourages any precautions and education that could help reduce the risk.

``We feel the risk is low, but we need to make that risk even lower,″ Bonds said.

Morrison said he endorsed mandatory HIV testing.

``They’d be crazy not to,″ he said.

His last opponent, Lennox Lewis, said despite a bloody battle in October he was not worried.

``I heard different reports that I should get tested and there was a risk of me getting it,″ Lewis said in a conference call from Jamaica. ``I really didn’t let that bother me. There were no cuts on my side in the fight. I didn’t bang heads with him. The fight wasn’t really a clinching fight, it was more at a distance. Although there was a lot of blood, it wasn’t on me.

Morrison was suspended from worldwide boxing after the positive HIV test in Las Vegas. He pronounced his boxing career over Thursday and said he plans to pursue AIDS awareness activities.

``I will have scored my biggest knockout ever″ if, by speaking out, he prevents another person from contracting the disease, he said.

``I’ve been turning negatives into positives my whole life. This is just a bigger negative,″ he said.

Holden and his trainers stood by the boxer’s side as he made the announcement. His parents, sister and girlfriend also were present.

``I’m sorry that I’ve had to drag you through this,″ he said. His mother buried her face in her hands.

Morrison said he plans to work with Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson, who also has the AIDS virus, on educational activities. After speaking with Johnson, Morrison said he does not consider his condition a death sentence.

``It’s puzzling. I don’t feel sick. I don’t look sick,″ he said. ``I’m just hanging in there.″

Morrison said his lifestyle typifies that of many of his generation who believe AIDS is limited to intravenous drug users or homosexuals.

``I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life,″ he said. ``However, if getting up here today, confronting this problem out in the open, can get just one person out there to take a more responsible attitude toward sex, then I feel I would have scored my biggest knockout ever.″

He asked that his fans see him as an individual who blew the chance to be a role model with an ``irresponsible, irrational, immature decision. A decision that one day may cost me my life.″

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