HIV/AIDS is a very scary illness. While there are new medical advancements and strides being made every day, it is still a disease that takes the lives of many individuals and causes a complete revamp in that person's lifestyle.
With the current news that Charlie Sheen is dealing with the disease, it is time to reflect on other public figures who have battled HIV/AIDS. While anyone can contract this illness, today we are going to focus on people in the sports world. While many of these professional athletes have since passed away, there are a few that are still living with the illness today. They are proof that life does continue after an HIV/AIDS diagnosis, it is just a different kind of life. Living in the new millennium, it is important to remember that there is much greater awareness and lots of activism across the globe to help educate and alert people to the real threat of HIV/AIDS. As you are about to see, these athletes often used their fame and popularity to raise concerns and get people talking about the illness.
It is conversations like those that need to continue if we are going to continue making strides in helping people that are afflicted with this disease. We hope that this list of athletes inspires you to do something to help raise action and awareness.
Here is our list of the 20 Athletes You Didn’t Know Had HIV.
20 Magic Johnson
Despite being one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Magic Johnson contracted HIV in 1991. The decision caused him to retire, but he was ultimately convinced to come back and play a few more seasons. Pretty impressive to consider how long Johnson has been battling the disease, but when you think about how our medical technology and advancements have improved over the years, you can be pleased to know that Johnson is living as comfortably as possible. Johnson is now in his 50s, and as you know, a survivor of over 20 years, which was a concept that could have been unheard of when HIV first became well-known in mainstream culture. While it hasn’t been easy, Johnson is a wonderful testament to the fact that there is life after an HIV diagnosis. When Johnson announced his illness in the early 1990s, the rate of HIV occurrences was at mind-blowing levels, and it’s still more prevalent among black citizens, but there is always reason for hope.
19 Rudy Galindo
During the 1990s, Rudy Galindo lit up the ice skating rink as a professional figure skater. He performed in tournaments for both singles and pairs and even clinched championship titles in 1987 to 1990 and again in 1996. Unfortunately, Galindo’s former skating coach, Jim Hulick, died due to complications from AIDS, and Galindo’s own brother also passed away from the disease. Galindo, a gay man, was diagnosed with HIV, but has managed to move past the sadness and shock and continue to live his life to the fullest. He used his star power to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS and has skated and performed in various ice skating fundraisers.
18 Arthur Ashe
Back in 1992, professional tennis star Arthur Ashe made a public announcement about his AIDS diagnosis. At that time, HIV/AIDS was nearly considered a death sentence, with sufferers having anywhere from months to a few years to live. Although Ashe publicly acknowledged his illness in 1992, he discovered he had AIDS in 1988 after being infected by blood from his heart surgery. Less than a year after his public announcement, Ashe passed away, but his legacy lives on. Even today, there are still tennis camps for youth that are organized every summer all across the United States. Ashe would be proud.
17 Tommy Morrison
Boxing and HIV just kind of seem like a weird juxtaposition, but Tommy Morrison’s story just goes to show that even men that are incredible shape can get diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The pro boxer was pulling out all the stops in the ring when, in 1996, he was diagnosed with the illness. Unfortunately for Morrison, he decided that the HIV would take a backseat to his career, and rather than focusing on the possible solutions and treatments, he continued to ignore it. He ended up living for another 17 years, but it probably could have been much longer had he explored his treatment options. Amazingly, Morrison clenched nearly 50 individual wins in the boxing ring before losing his battle with HIV.
16 Greg Louganis
Greg Louganis gives us a more positive outlook on HIV diagnoses. The Olympic-level athlete was struck by the disease at the young age of 28. Back then, Louganis felt wary about seeing his 30th birthday. Well, fast-forward to present day, and Louganis is in his mid-50s and is now serving as an activist and supporter of HIV awareness and research. Recently, Louganis has stepped forward to voice his opinion on the illness and how it is still prevalent. Louganis himself was diagnosed just months before competing in the Olympics in 1988, which led to an increased amount of pressure and fear that his illness would be discovered and he’d be sent back home.
15 Jerry Smith
We know that HIV/AIDS is highly prevalent among the gay community, and Jerry Smith is one of the heroes who battled the disease while maintaining his career in the NFL. Jerry Smith was a player for the Washington Redskins, and while he put up a good fight, he lost his battle with the illness in 1986. He was just 43 years old. Smith was a gay athlete, which was already something out of the ordinary back in his era, and is still not common today. Add to that the fact that he was HIV-positive, and it seemed as though he had no shortage of amazing battles to endure. Even so, he managed to solidify himself as a great football player who left a legacy that is far greater then the disease that took his life.
14 Glenn Burke
Not only did Glenn Burke suffer from HIV, but he was the first major-league baseball player to openly recognize that he was gay. In fact, a few years ago, the MLB chose to posthumously recognize Burke as a gay pioneer in baseball. While Burke passed away decades ago, he remains a key figure in baseball, and an example of how gay men felt the need to hide their identities from others. On top of that, Burke was battling a disease that was known to kill its victims quickly and yet his inspiration still remains today. Today we have more advanced treatments and options, but back in the 1980s, things were bleaker, but Burke was able to leave a legacy that shines brighter.
13 Tom Waddell
Tom Waddell was another influential sports figure who will be remembered for pushing through while battling a deadly illness. His legacy is best remembered for his organization of the Gay Olympics in 1982, which are still held every 4 years (under the title "Gay Games"). Besides his athletic talent, Waddell was praised for his tough fight against HIV. Waddell was quite honest about his illness, and expressed his grief at knowing that he wouldn’t be able to see his daughter grow up into a lovely young woman. Despite this, He was a man who faced the statistics, but he wouldn’t let that destroy the legacy that he wanted to leave. Despite taking medical steps to try and slow the progression of the disease, Waddell passed away in 1987.
12 John Curry
John Curry was a skating superstar from the United Kingdom, who tragically passed away in 1994 at the age of 44, 7 years after his HIV diagnosis. Curry was a gay figure skater, and was often suffered discrimination due to his homosexuality. He is just one example of the public figures in our world who endure so much emotional cruelty, yet continued to give so much joy and pleasure to spectators, including winning a gold medal in 1976. Skating was one thing that helped motivate Curry during his diagnosis, and it is wonderful to know that he has left a legacy that has surely helped inspire other people to follow their dreams. If he were alive today, he would without a doubt be a strong advocate towards HIV awareness.
11 Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond whizzed around the race track at lightning speed. This NASCAR professional continues to be remembered by fans, spectators, and even the general public for his highlights, despite his tragic end. Richmond was diagnosed with HIV in 1987. Many people like to think that he would still be showing NASCAR drivers who’s boss and would be one of the all time legends, but unfortunately passed away at the age of 34. In 1987, Richmond ended up missing out on 11 races, attributing his absence to some kind of flu. He did come back to the race track, but in 1989, succumbed to HIV and passed away. He genuinely loved racing, and won 13 races during his career that lasted 8 seasons.
10 Bill Goldsworthy
Bill Goldsworthy was a tremendous hockey player, spending 14 seasons in the NHL. He was even part of the World Hockey Association and delved into coaching. Yet Goldsworthy also battled an addiction to alcohol for parts of his career. The athlete who won over fans with his “Goldy Shuffle” contracted AIDS in 1994, at the age of 50 and was given only a few years to live. The weight of that bad news must have been too much for Goldsworthy, who turned to the bottle more than ever before. Rather than fully embrace his lot in life, he tried to drown it in alcohol and passed away in 1996. He was the first hockey player to be recognized as being diagnosed with the disease.
9 Alan Wiggins
Alan Wiggins was a professional baseball player who died from complications due to AIDS back in 1991. He dealt not only with his illness, but with the ardent racism that surrounded him during that time period. Much like Bill Goldsworthy, Wiggins turned to an abusive substance to dull the pain, but instead of alcohol, Wiggins abused drugs. In recent years, Wiggins’ daughter, Candice, spoke out about how she had to move on from the grief and loss of her father, who passed away when she was just 3 years old. Wiggins personal issues included being nabbed by the authorities for cocaine in 1985. He was also the first major league player to pass away from the disease.
8 Michael Westphal
Michael Westphal was a clearly naturally gifted at sports, and at the ripe young age of 18, had become a Tennis pro. The following year, he was on the German Olympic tennis team at the 1984 games. Yet what could have been a promising career was cut short, and he died in 1991 when he was only 26. He had been living with AIDS for about 2 years when his body just couldn’t take it anymore. The youthful tennis pro was well-liked in his native Germany, and had such potential to go further and further. He is just one example of a life that was cut short way too soon. His death was partly attributed to the irregular heartbeat that resulted from his AIDS medication.
7 Ji Wallace
You may not have heard of Ji Wallace, but he is all the rage down under. The Aussie gymnast publicly acknowledged his AIDS diagnosis in 2012 and was praised for his honesty and willingness to fight and participate in activism for awareness and research. The Olympic medal-winning gymnast continues to be a role model all over the world. His easy going persona makes him approachable, he just happens to be battling a serious illness. Wallace is also openly gay, and was Australia’s first ambassador to the Gay Games. He fights not only for HIV/AIDS awareness, but for more opportunities for homosexuals in the Olympics and sports in general.
6 Robert Wagenhoffer
Robert Wagenhoffer is another skater on our list. He was a huge force to be reckoned with in the 1970s and 80s when he was a competitor in both singles and pairs competitions in the United States. His charisma and innovation in the rink was impeccable, and people truly loved to watch him perform. He also used his skating prowess and public recognition to spread love and tolerance all over the globe. For instance, he performed and choreographed for fundraisers such as Brian Boitano’s Skate Against Hate, Rock The Ice, and Ice Fantastic. Wagenhoffer lost his brother and lover to AIDS, before also passing away in 1999.
5 Roy Simmons
Roy Simmons passed away in 2014 due to complications from HIV/AIDS. He was 57 years old, and was known as a defensive lineman in the NFL who played for the Giants and the Redskins back in the day. He was also a gay man and one of the first football players to come out. He passed away after his health deteriorated from pneumonia. He had been living with HIV since 1997. Unfortunately, Simmons probably could have gone a lot further in his career and life, had he not turned to alcohol and substance abuse in the 1980s. Simmons spoke out about his homosexuality and the criticism and prejudice that gay athletes face in the hopes that more athletes would feel comfortable coming out. Things are changing, it's just unfortunate Simmons is not alive to witness it.
4 Job Komol
Job Komol is currently living with HIV and struggled to continue his professional soccer career after his diagnosis. The Cameroonian announced his HIV diagnosis in 2000, making him the first soccer player with HIV to play with a Dutch team. This caused quick a stir among the athletic community in the Netherlands, where Komol was playing, and his license to play was even taken away. He eventually was permitted to start playing again after it was revealed that the diagnosis only had a 0.1% chance of transmitting to another player during a game. Job is still alive, even if his soccer career was not everything that he had hoped it would be.
3 Mike Beuttler
It may have been over two decades since Mike Beuttler passed away, but he will always be remembered for his Formula One success and for the strength he must have had at being the first openly gay F1 driver. He passed away due to AIDS complications back in 1988, a time when HIV/AIDS was a terribly frightening diagnosis and one that came with much seriousness and negativity. While also battling the disease, Beuttler was hit with suspicions that he was a homosexual, which back then, was also a big source of controversy. Despite the hate and criticism, there was much more praise and admiration for the young F1 racer who seemed like he may have a promising career ahead of himself. While his life ended too soon, you can be sure that it was a life that has positively inspired many people.
2 Ondrej Nepela
Ondrej Nepela was just 38 years old when he passed away, but despite passing away at a young age, there was no shortage of accomplishments. Nepela was a Slovakian figure skater who competed (and won) in the 1972 Olympics, the World Championships, and the European Championships. After a successful individual career, he eventually became a coach. Even as a teenager, he was a force in the skating rink, and he held on competing and helping inspire countless people before him. In 1988, he began to experience medical complications, and unfortunately passed away after only one year of battling the disease. Doctors associated his early death to the AIDS virus, as well as lymph node cancer.
1 Esteban de Jesus
Esteban de Jesus achieved success in the boxing ring when he was just 21 years old. After winning a hefty match in New York City, people started really paying attention to the young boxer. He was undefeated, he was a champion, and he was attracting thousands of fans to his fights. Unfortunately, de Jesus fell into the trap that many athletes and famous figures face: drug abuse, and that was what led to his early death. He contracted AIDS through an infected needle and passed away in 1989 at the age of 37. His boxing career spanned 63 fights and loads of championships.