More than 20 years after Magic Johnson returned to the NBA following his HIV-positive diagnosis, a player in a Kissimmee, Florida recreational basketball league was pulled off the court and temporarily banished from the league because he is HIV-positive.
The Orlando Sentinel told the story of 21-year-old Dakota Basinger, who was playing in a recreational basketball game as part of the Kissimmee Parks and Recreation league on Sunday, was taken from the court into a private room and told by a city employee that he wouldn’t be allowed to play anymore. “I feel humiliated and discriminated against,” Basinger told the Sentinel. “I felt horrible walking out of that gym.”
Thursday, the city of Kissimmee announced that the employee, Dale Boston, has resigned from his position with the Parks and Recreation Department, and that he had “acted independently and without supervisor approval.” Basinger will be allowed to return to the league, but he told the Sentinel he was unsure if he would:
Basinger is welcome to continue playing with the league, she said. But Basinger isn’t sure whether he will. “I’m going to have to think about that,” he said.
Upon learning of Boston’s resignation, Basinger said, “I’m pretty upset. I feel like it wasn’t his fault.” He said Boston told him the city had asked him to remove Basinger from the game and from all future games.
When Johnson, who announced he was HIV positive on November 7, 1991 and promptly retired from basketball, returned to the sport for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, there were fears that he would spread the disease to other players. Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, Johnson’s teammate on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, responded to rumors that Johnson was returning to the NBA with concern. “Look at this, scabs and cuts all over me,” Malone said after a game in 1992. “I get these every night, every game. They can’t tell you that you’re not at risk, and you can’t tell me there’s one guy in the N.B.A. who hasn’t thought about it.”
Those fears were misplaced then, though perhaps Malone had an excuse then because the public was still largely uneducated about the disease (Malone apologized to Johnson a year later). But such concerns are even more misplaced today. The Centers for Disease Control says that HIV cannot be spread by casual contact, saliva, or sweat, and it is “extremely rare” for it to spread through blood contact with open woods or skin. To mitigate what little risk exists, sports leagues and organizations have implemented policies for dealing with players who are bleeding, both when they are HIV-positive and not. In 1994, when the NFL implemented its HIV policy, it noted that the CDC had “not attributed one AIDS case to athletic competition.” A 2004 study of HIV and hepatitis B and C found similarly that “there are no confirmed reports of HIV transmission during sport.”
The responsibility of limiting whatever small risk exists should be on parks and rec departments to have first aid policies to prevent the spread of HIV or any other transmittable disease. But there is no more reason to keep an HIV-positive player off the court today than there was to keep Magic out of the NBA 20 years ago.