In the mind of Tommy Morrison it is all so clear. There is no fog mucking up his memories, no misfiring of neurons causing him to forget. The recollections of how he became the first known high profile professional boxer to test positive for the virus that causes AIDS are crystalline and thick with substance.
There are some who will read this and think Morrison is anything but clearheaded about those dark days, however. They will believe he has been knocked in the cranium one too many times after seeing his words about conspiracies and plots and false positives. Morrison seems like a levelheaded man, an intelligent man and, possibly, a terrifically misguided man who has been sucked into the gaseous anomalies that are crackpot claims and Internet-generated nonsense that the AIDS crisis is mostly a government-induced hoax.
|Morrison was knocked out of boxing in '96 after being diagnosed with HIV. (Getty Images)|
Now, incredibly, Morrison blames that positive result on the nefarious forces of the sport's underworld. Or is it the United States government? Or was it the supplement he was taking? He has floated between these and other theories with the greatest of ease. The one he seems to cling to the most is that the test result was a lie, a devious set up, a monstrous piece of trickery.
"I do not believe I am HIV positive," Morrison said in a telephone interview. "It was a false positive. I know it was. It has been 10 years that I have allegedly had HIV."
"I never believed" that he had the virus, Morrison later added. "I've never had so much as a symptom."
When asked to elaborate about why he believed it was a false positive, Morrison said it was possible he was set up by a rival promoter, who rigged the blood test to show he was HIV positive when he was not.
Do you think Tommy Morrison was set up?
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"That question has crossed my mind," he said. "There was some pretty shady stuff going on then."
There are always shadows and evil-doers in boxing, and there always will be. Corruption is in the sport's DNA and it is a place where despicable rogues, scams and con artists rule. But a faked HIV test result? Even for boxing that would be extreme, yet that is something Morrison, one of the most intriguing heavyweight fighters of the last 5-10 years, is claiming.
Morrison has made other strange statements, including how at least a portion of the HIV crisis might be a government-induced conspiracy where a great many people are duped by false positives. He also spoke of how the supplements he was taking at the time could have triggered a false positive as well. He explains his expulsion from boxing by serving up plots and schemes almost a la carte.
"Since I was forced into retirement," Morrison said, "two other boxers were forced into retirement for the same reason."
Other fighters have tested positive for the HIV virus, but none nearly as famous as Morrison and none, at least publicly, have claimed their results might have been some frightening plot against them.
There are only two possibilities when it comes to Morrison. He is either understandably denying the painful fact that he has contracted a terminal illness, or he is the victim of a monstrous scheme that would put every other boxing scandal to distinct shame and supermarket tabloids on red alert.
The likelihood is that Morrison did contract the virus and there is no false positive. There must be a part of him that knows this. When speaking to Morrison, a fighter I have long admired for his hard punches and courage in the ring, he vacillates between the two opposites, using language that seems to acknowledge he is HIV positive, and verbiage that conversely says he does not have it.
In one breath, he talks about lacking any symptoms, and uses phrases like false positives. In another, he says there is no known case of HIV transmission from athlete to athlete, and how that fact should allow him to fight again, how his viral levels are almost non-existent and how if his license is not reinstated, he might sue to get it back.
Morrison, HIV positive or not, is in fact planning to fight two or three times, maybe more, by the end of the year.
The Tale of Tommy remains one of the more remarkable and underreported sports stories in years because Morrison gives us a rare glimpse into the still uncommon world of athletes and HIV. His story is a graphic cautionary tale about a man who once partied like the horniest of rock stars, the pimpest of pimp daddy's, perhaps blowing a promising career in the process. He went from the top of the world to his current skid and is valiantly trying to get his career back while fighting a devastating disease.
You have to understand the boxing scene circa 1996, what Morrison's world and the sport were like then, to fully grasp how big a story he is, even now, fight-less for a decade, mostly away from the spotlight.
He had starred in one of the 819 Rocky movies, used his unique skin color in a mostly black and Latino sport as a blunt and powerful marketing instrument and possessed charm and good looks. Even though the heavyweight division would soon undergo a seismic collapse, ending the era of the sexy heavyweight and transforming the division into the uninteresting mess it is now, Morrison was a significant player and draw. George Foreman has lost to only five men and Morrison is one of them. On two occasions Morrison held a share of the heavyweight title.
Morrison lost a championship bout to Lennox Lewis in 1996, but nevertheless signed a three-fight deal with Don King that was supposed to lead to a Morrison-Mike Tyson showdown. That deal, says Morrison, was to pay him $38 million. Then came the positive test, which Morrison estimates cost him, over the past decade, some $100 million total in potential fight revenues.
"That's a nice chunk of change, huh?" he said.
Morrison says he found out about the test result in a hotel suite in Las Vegas just a few hours before he was scheduled to fight Arthur Weathers. Morrison was placed on indefinite medical suspension by the state. Other commissions and states followed with similar restrictions. He was effectively done as a fighter.
"It was a weird, dark time for me," he explained.
It was not long before Morrison's life took a steep downward spiral, one that included jail time for drug charges and HIV-related discrimination, in which fellow gym members canceled their memberships once his HIV news became public. Close friends abandoned him because of his illness.
Morrison's disbelief turned into Internet research, looking into claims that AIDS is a U.S. government-spurned falsehood.
The danger Morrison and other HIV positive athletes may present in various competitions is hotly debated, but if other boxers do not care about fighting him, then why shouldn't he be allowed to earn a living the only way he knows how? Imagine the strong anti-discrimination statement it would make if Morrison could step into the ring again.
He deserves that chance even if, for the moment, Morrison packs more conspiracy theories than punches.