Louganis brings home important message

I love sports.

Everything from the NBA to the PGA to the Olympics, I like to watch sports for the enjoyment of watching great individual and team performances.

Fortunately, my own sense of reality always told me that there is more to life than sports. The world watches as athletes fight for victory. But sadly, the world is also watching another fight the one for life.

Since 1991, three of the greatest athletes the world has ever known have disclosed the fact that they have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

On Nov. 10,1991, Magic Johnson shocked the world with his announcement that he had HIV.

On Feb. 6, 1993, AIDS claimed the life of tennis legend Arthur Ashe. He was 49.

Now, the world finds out that Greg Louganis, the greatest diver in Olympic history, has AIDS.

I don't know why their announcements have hit me so hard. Thousands of people are diagnosed as HIV-positive every year what makes these three men special?

The answer: They are idols to millions of people, young and old.

Their prominence as athletes is what gives an otherwise tragic story a silver lining. Their visibility can bring heightened awareness to the fight against AIDS.

Think about it for a moment. Is there anyone on the planet more universally revered than a champion athlete? No. The entire world knows Magic Johnson. The entire world knows Arthur Ashe. The entire world knows Greg Louganis.

I am from Los Angeles, and living in that town in the 1980s was, well, magical.

The '80s were "Showtime." Magic led the Lakers to NBA championships in '80, '82, '85, '87 and '88. He was arguably the best player to ever play the game. On the court, it seemed like there was nothing he could not do. Kids watched Magic. They tried to imitate Magic's playing style. Simply put, they idolized Magic.

Arthur Ashe was the first black man to win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, but his achievements off the tennis court are just as important.

After Ashe retired from tennis for health reasons, he moved to the forefront of the civil rights movement both in the United States and South Africa. In the early '80s, Ashe had heart bypass surgery and the blood transfusion he received was tainted with HIV.

Greg Louganis was the first diver to ever sweep the event at back-to-back Olympics (1984, 1988).

Upon hearing of Louganis' announcement, diver Mark Lenzi himself a gold medal winner in 1992 said, "He was my hero . and still is."

I was just eight years old when Louganis won his first set of medals in 1984, but I remember watching his performance at the Seoul Olympics. Louganis brought that right combination of power and grace to diving a combination that made him unbeatable.

Perhaps that is the reason their announcements are so shocking to the world. Because they appear to be just that unbeatable.

The effect of their respective announcements have been enormous. For the first time, everyone in America knows someone with HIV. For myself, Magic was the first person that I knew who had HIV. Until then, all I knew was that AIDS was a horrible disease that I didn't want to get. There was no emotional attachment for me. But with Magic's announcement, AIDS became personal. My favorite basketball player was going to die. Sure, people have lost partners, family members, and friends, but I never had. It was a new experience, and an eye-opener.

At his press conference, Magic announced that he wanted "to become a spokesman" for the disease. He did so by making a video for teens with Arsenio Hall and work for then-President George Bush. To show that people could live normal lives with the virus, Magic attempted a short-lived comeback. He could have just retired quietly in 1991, but he didn't. Hopefully people will learn from what he has to say about AIDS.

Louganis found out he was HIV-positive just months before winning gold at the '88 Olympics. He went to be tested after learning that a former companion was dying of AIDS. Louganis, who "came out of the closet" at the '92 Gay Games in New York City, has said that he was promiscuous. His announcement took an enormous amount of courage. He didn't have to say a word, but he did. Hopefully, people will learn from him.

AIDS is a worldwide epidemic yet funding for research to find a cure is minimal. Awareness is growing but at a relatively slow pace. It took Magic's announcement to bring heightened awareness. It was sad, but it was effective.

Someday, AIDS will take the lives of Greg Louganis and Magic Johnson long before their time. Hopefully, before then, they can give the fight against AIDS an assist.

Craig Degel is a journalism and history freshman.

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