When CNN first released excerpts of disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s sit-down with anchor Anderson Cooper, one of the odder moments in the highlight reel was Sterling’s criticisms of Magic Johnson as a role model. The full interview revealed the reason: Sterling thinks Johnson is an embarrassment because of his sexual history and the fact that he is HIV positive.
That is an ugly, retrograde sentiment that shames people who contracted the virus because of their sexual history. And Sterling also profoundly misunderstands the ways in which Johnson’s HIV diagnosis actually led him to make enormous contributions. Johnson has not just been a role model to the “children of Los Angeles” Sterling said should be his focus, but also an ambassador who changed America’s understanding of his disease.
When Johnson revealed his HIV status in 1991, many Americans still thought that the disease was limited to gay men, and in particular to white gay men, even as the virus jumped populations. Johnson alluded to that in his remarkable news conference announcing his diagnosis and his retirement from the Lakers.