AIDS throws scare into athletes' womanizing ways

November 10, 1991|By Julie Cart and Randy Harvey | Julie Cart and Randy Harvey,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- The prominent NBA player met a beautiful young woman after a road game at a restaurant near the arena and, after a few drinks, asked if he could go home with her. She agreed, with one condition. In return for her companionship, he had to give her a pair of autographed sneakers.

When they arrived at her bedroom, he fulfilled his part of the agreement, producing the shoes from his shoulder bag and signing them.

"She took them to her closet and opened the door," he said, laughing about the story while he told it to a reporter a couple of years later. "There must have been 100 pairs of shoes in there, all autographed by NBA players."

Sex in the NBA. Sex in the NFL. Sex in NASCAR. Sex in the PGA. Sex in the LPGA. To say that athletes out there are having a lot of sex is like saying the sun rises in the east.

So what's new?

What's new is that one of the nation's most revered professional athletes, Magic Johnson, has tested positive for the AIDS virus. And although the public perception before Thursday seemed to be that AIDS was a disease for homosexuals, intravenous drug users and recipients of infected blood transfusions, Johnson's doctor, Michael Mellman, released a statement Friday saying he believes Johnson contracted the virus through heterosexual activity.

Johnson indicated as much during his news conference Thursday, when he said: "Sometimes we think only gay people can get it; it can't happen to me. Here I am saying it can happen, even to Magic Johnson."

There no doubt were many heterosexual athletes who might not have given AIDS more than a passing thought in the past wondering after they heard the news about Johnson whether it could happen to them.

"This scares the hell out of me," one NBA player said.

As anyone who is familiar with the lifestyles of professional athletes knows, a lot of them should be scared. That is not to suggest that athletes are naturally more promiscuous than the general public, but the combination of their healthy bodies and paychecks, celebrity and availability on those long, lonely nights on the road makes for a powerful aphrodisiac for members of the opposite sex. That includes groupies who collect encounters with prominent athletes like some people do trading cards. Liaisons are frequent.

The media, perhaps believing that such endeavors should remain under the covers, tend to ignore them. But that doesn't mean such trysts aren't written about, often by the athletes involved, in their autobiographies.

In the recently-released "A View From Above," basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain wrote that he had had sex with nearly 20,000 women, which, considering he turned 55 in August, averages to about one a day since he was born.

Also counting was former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, who, in "Out of Control: Confessions of an NFL Casualty," wrote: "I'm not real proud of this, but it's the truth. In my five years in Dallas, I must have had affairs with over a thousand women, from one-night stands to three-day romances to four or five women a night at the orgies. That's just the way it was being a football player in Dallas, Texas."

As advertised by the blurb on the cover of "Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud," the author, former New York Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone, wrote about: " . . . Girls, Girls, Girls, including wives, hookers, party chicks, baseball groupies, stewardesses and all other available sackmates, night and day and in between."

The game that continues even after some players are married. Players on one Los Angeles-area professional team had a pool among themselves to guess when one of their teammates, a newlywed, would become unfaithful. One player guessed five minutes. He was wrong, but only by a few hours.

Wives often find out, despite efforts by players to keep them from knowing. When a former player for a Los Angeles-area professional team told his wife about his teammates' sexual encounters, she informed their wives and girlfriends. The players responded by exiling their talkative teammate to a table by himself during a Christmas Eve team dinner.

Will athletes, now that their consciousness has been raised by Johnson's illness, change their behavior?

A bleak outlook is provided by Tom House, pitching coach for the Texas Rangers. In House's book, "The Jock's Itch," he wrote about the "terminal adolescence" of many athletes, which makes them prone to substance abuse, financial irresponsibility and promiscuity.

Regarding pressure on pro athletes to chase women -- to be one of the boys -- House, a former major-league pitcher, wrote: "There are rules to be followed, which, simply stated, go something like this: You're expected to love your wife, be a good provider, a good father and all those things that being married and having children are all about.

"But you're also expected to fit in with your peers. And to fit in, you have to follow certain regulations and rituals, and sometimes one of those regulations and rituals happens to be chasing women. Anyone in pro sports will tell you he has seen more than one guy run out of town because he won't play along, because he makes his teammates uncomfortable."

Chasing women, House wrote, is one of pro sports' "most time-honored traditions."

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