Now that a second woman
has accused Roberto Alomar of having HIV, it's probably time to give this sad story a look-over. After all, how often do these two worlds of mine -- HIV/ID (work) and baseball (lifetime hobby -- my wife would say that's a collosal understatement) actually meet?
For those unfamiliar with the basics: Alomar was a staggeringly good player, in the majors from 1988-2004, winning 10 Gold Glove Awards and making the All Star team 12 times. He very nearly was elected this year to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (a very big deal), and all the baseball cognescenti think he's an eventual shoe-in since he's one of the best second basemen in history. For those who don't follow the sport, watch these plays 12, 30, and 57 seconds into this video for some examples of Alomar at his best.
That's the good part.
On the other hand, there was this strange spitting incident. And then, in 2009, an ex-girlfriend filed a $15 million lawsuit saying he lied about his HIV status; Alomar denied the charges (sort of), and was defended by his then girlfriend -- who later became his wife. Then last week, the wife sued Alomar with similar allegations.
I can't get into the "she-said, he-said" part, as I have no information beyond what's available in the press. But if we start with the premise that Alomar might have HIV, here are some general thoughts:
- Any reason why someone with HIV couldn't play baseball? I can't think of one.
- Could there be anything further from Magic Johnson's 1991 disclosure than these sordid legal proceedings? As I recall, Johnson's wife was extraordinarily supportive, at least as relayed to the public. Then he used his HIV diagnosis as a way to encourage people to find out their status, to protect others from getting infected, and to take advantage of treatment -- an incredible example of turning something terrifying and stigmatized (especially in the early 1990s) into something good. One of John Bartlett's favorite comments is that hepatitis C needs a Magic Johnson to make its case. (No, Evel Knievel, may he R.I.P, does not count.)
- Related to the above, you can be sure society's reaction to Magic Johnson's disclosure would have been different if he'd acquired HIV from injection drug use or sex with men. (Read the section "Time to Move On" here for how this issue has been reported.) One of the painful things about HIV is the tendency for many to lump cases into those perceived as "innocent" vs "he/she deserved it."
- For another stark example of how HIV differs from other serious diseases (even those related to unhealthy choices), Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn has just been diagnosed with salivary gland cancer, likely due to chewing tobacco. The response? Mostly sympathy, very little blame or snark.
- Last, here's a great graphic on how major league baseball players compare to the rest of society. Pretty much says it all.
My view? I hope Alomar gets elected to the Hall of Fame next year -- from the baseball perspective he definitely deserves it.
And if he does have HIV, wouldn't that be something if he acknowledged it during his acceptance speech in Cooperstown.
Paul Sax is Clinical Director of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital. His blog HIV and ID Observations is part of Journal Watch, where he is Editor-in-Chief of Journal Watch AIDS Clinical Care.