Magic Johnson on the Problem With the HIV/AIDS Fight
Nearly 21 years after his very public announcement of his HIV status and retirement from the NBA, Magic Johnson has become the most important public face of not surviving, but thriving, with HIV.
But he’s worried about the current complacency around the life-threatening virus, which 1.15 million Americans currently have (and 18 percent don’t know it). He acknowledges that his robust, healthy appearance may be a double-edged sword when it comes to public perception of the HIV threat. “You can’t have that attitude that ‘if I get it, I’m going to be like Magic,’” he says. “Early detection saved my life. We jumped on a regimen right away. We have to put the fear back in people that you could die.”
What’s more, Johnson says that people aren’t talking about HIV and feeling the pressure to get tested like they used to when he first began advocating for the cause. He is optimistic that the new OraQuick In-home test will be a game-changer by giving people the freedom to get tested wherever they feel comfortable.
Johnson ascribes his own ability to live well with HIV to a conversation he had with his doctor when he was first diagnosed, in which he asked what the people who have been living with HIV for a long time do to stay healthy. “Take your meds, positive attitude, and continue to work out,” was the answer he got. “I knew I had to accept my new status,” Johnson says today. “If you don’t put the meds with a positive attitude and the thinking that everything’s going to be OK, it will be tough for you.”
The AIDS patient and activist Elizabeth Glaser encouraged Johnson back in 1991 to go public with his status, which he now says is the best decision he and his wife ever made. “It really helped the HIV/AIDS fight at the time because it brought a face to it, and let people talk openly about it.
“I’ll never forget [Elizabeth Glaser],” he continues. “That’s why I always talk about her. I carry her torch as I’m doing the things I do in the HIV/AIDS fight.”