Tommy Morrison and the House of Numbers
Editorial By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
Editor’s note: This story is written by Robert Brizel and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Real Combat Media and it’s editorial staff.
In the award winning 2009 HIV / AIDS documentary ‘The House of Numbers: Anatomy of an Epidemic’, the late heavyweight boxer Tommy ‘The Duke’ Morrison is featured in a film clip, stating eleven years after the Nevada Athletic Commission announced he was HIV positive, Morrison subsequently tested negative for HIV a number of times. To understand how this could come about, one has to study the contents of the film intensely. It depends on which HIV test was administered, and what criterion was extrapolated to define HIV status or not, when, where, and by whom, and under what conditions.
Morrison, who held the World Boxing Organization World Heavyweight title after defeating George Foreman by 12 round decision in Las Vegas in June 1993, went public in a press conference in February 1996 stating his pending Las Vegas bout with Arthur Weathers had been cancelled because the Nevada Athletic Commission found his blood had tested HIV positive.
Morrison died at age 44 on September 1, 2013. The argument over whether or not Tommy Morrison had HIV or not is less relevant than understanding how the movie brought about such a turnaround in Morrison’s personality. HIV positive Magic Johnson still lives, and Morrison might well still be alive if he had taken retroviral drugs now available. At some point, Morrison went into denial largely because he believed he was not HIV positive for a number of reasons. He had no paperwork from Nevada, and although he was told he was HIV positive, he subsequently tested HIV negative in 2007 a number of times. It depends where Morrison was retested, when, what tests were used, and what criterion was used to evaluate the test results.
The ten years which Morrison lost between November 1996 and February 2007 when he returned to the ring remain a mystery. In fact, Morrison fought in Japan legally in November 1996 after getting diagnosed, where HIV testing was not a requirement. Morrison fought legally in West Virginia, who accepted his HIV negative tests from Arizona and relicensed Morrison in 2007. Simply put, Morrison believed he was HIV negative because he had a test result which stated he was. Which test he took in Arizona, as well as tests he took elsewhere, and how they were interpreted when evaluated and where, remain a mystery to this day. Morrison did in fact test HIV negative a number of times before he returned to the ring, based on the applicable criteria for judging his status where the tests were given. The results could be different in different places, though.
According to the ‘House of Numbers’, there are different HIV tests with different criterion. The Western Blot, to provide one cited example, has eight different criterion, and each jurisdiction has different interpretations. In one country, you could be HIV negative, in another country you could be HIV positive, and in another country you could have AIDS.
What is diagnosed as HIV / AIDS in the United States is not HIV / AIDS when you cross the border into Canada. One person cited in the documentary had a positive test, then tested negative, then tested indeterminate, then positive, then negative, and then positive again. One manufacturer could categorize you as positive, another negative, based on their different HIV testing criterion. HIV tests administered all contain an additional clause which states if a person tests HIV positive, they need to take follow up tests to confirm it. In other words, more comprehensive testing must take place as a follow up. No valid follow up test is listed or provided to accomplish the more comprehensive confirmation of the initial simplified version HIV positive test results. One woman who was diagnosed HIV positive took antivirals for nine years before discovering she was in fact negative.
Pharmaceutical countries get paid to treat, and make money doing that, as opposed to finding a cure and not making big money, for various disease and health conditions. The movie states this is not a scientific issue, it is a matter of politics. False positive results have confused the interpretation of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The film also highlights the different definitions of HIV / AIDS, and how somebody could actually be diagnosed without ever having taken an HIV test. It also highlighted how people could be diagnosed with AIDS without being diagnosed with HIV, as was diagnosed in the original Karposi’s Sarcoma patients in New York City in the 1980s. The surveillance indicators of AIDS were not intended to be definitions for HIV infection. Therefore, it is proven HIV does not always cause AIDS, as AIDS can be diagnosed without HIV having been present.
The film also highlighted the overwhelming failure of the then controversial HIV / AIDS treatment drug AZT, which emerged as an HIV / AIDS therapy treatment in 1985 but in reality didn’t work, an d contributed to the deaths of many people who took it.
The documentary argues very few people are capable are looking at AIDS logically. Denial is one aspect of this, interpretation of test results another. The lack of HIV / AIDS education today contributes to the lack of ongoing awareness, and the renewed spread of the disease. In 1996, Morrison initially went public with the idea of educating young people. About HIV. However, Morrison’s initial HIV diagnosis came several decades ago when people were still in a stigma of hate and isolation. This sense of isolation may have contributed to Morrison’s involvement with alcohol and drugs which contributed to his downward spiral after his diagnosis. Undoubtedly Morrison’s return to boxing in 2007 helped him to put his life together. In terms of 38 million dollars he expected to earn for fighting Mike Tyson in 1997……..that fight never happened. I don’t think Morrison would have beaten Mike Tyson, but I suppose Morrison was as close to a ‘Great White Hope’ the world has seen since Gerry Cooney came and went, owing to Morrison’s claim of being a distant relative of ‘The Duke’, John Wayne, from where Tommy took his nickname.
The documentary was meant to reinforce the concept of denial of the existence of HIV by those who had, or still maintain, the mindset of what HIV is and whether or not it exists, owing to confusion over conflicting HIV test criterion. Morrison stated in 2011 HIV did not exist. In the last year of his life, Morrison suffered from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and died in 2013 of cardiac arrest from septic shock.