Remember Tommy Morrison, the boxer from “Rocky V,” who was retired by pppen athletic commission test revealing he was HIV positive? New court records uncovered by LawNewz reveal that not only did Morrison reportedly admit to being diagnosed as HIV positive seven years before he was forced to retire, but he apparently bragged about hiding his illness from the boxing commission and from women with whom he had unprotected sex. Morrison died in 2013 at the age of 44.
Morrison’s positive HIV test with the Nevada Athletic Commission was one of the biggest sports stories of 1996. Morrison had won 48 of 52 professional fights, and also held the World Boxing Organization heavyweight title. In the years that followed this test, Morrison denied having HIV, and even publicly challenged whether the disease really existed.
More than 20 years later, a new twist to the story has emerged in court documents filed in June. The Nevada Athletic Commission admits in paperwork that Morrison appears to have been diagnosed as HIV positive in 1989, seven years before the positive test that ended his above-board career. This is in spite of the Nevada Athletic Commission having required HIV testing since 1988.
You might be asking, how this could happen. The NAC’s website outlines the requirements for a “Professional Contestant” license in combative sports like this (emphasis ours):
Report of Physical Examination Report Professional Boxer/Unarmed Combatant including an original laboratory report with the fighters name and the date the HIV test and Hepatitis B Surface Antigen, Hepatitis C Antibody and CBC tests were taken. The HIV test must be done within 30 days of submitting all requirements to become licensed. The Hepatitis B & C and the CBC tests can be done within the calendar year.
As that language indicates, fighters are largely left to their own devices to get physicals and have their blood drawn. They can go to any doctor they want unless the doctor has been flagged by the NAC, and the blood work just has to go to an accredited lab. According to those familiar with the procedures, this is how most states handle fighter medicals, as it has to be decentralized due to how far fighters are spread out geographically.
According to those in the combat sports community who spoke to LawNewz on background, there appears to be only one scenario of reasonable likelihood that would explain why Morrison would have “passed” his HIV tests for seven years. Hypothetically, if an HIV positive fighter found a “friendly” doctor willing to send known HIV negative blood to an accredited lab labeled as belonging to the fighter in question, that could result in a negative HIV test with the fighter’s name on it. However, we have no confirmation that is what happened in Morrison’s case.
The lawsuit that led to the production of these documents is a bit complicated, but here’s the barebones version: Patricia Morrison, the widow of Tommy Morrison, who appears to be an HIV denier, sued the NAC, Quest Diagnostics in 2014 for “diagnosing” her late husband with HIV. The Nevada Athletic Commission defendants and Quest defendants are trying to prove otherwise. To that end, they’ve produced this evidence to support the claim that Morrison was diagnosed in 1989:
- When Morrison went into rehab in 1999, the counselor doing his intake wrote that “He claims that he was first told he was HIV positive in 1989. He hid this from nearly everyone until 1996 when it was discovered and made public. At that time he was forced to stop his professional boxing career. He believes he got his HIV from injecting steroids.”
- On August 20, 1999, Morrison’s psychiatrist wrote a letter to the boxer’s attorney that said “he has also been HIV positive for 11 years and had not been receiving treatment for this.”
- When Morrison’s ex-wife, Dawn Brady, was questioned for the lawsuit in a sworn deposition on April 21st, she said that he had told her in 2000 that he tested positive for HIV in 1989 when he got checked out as part of the screening for a life insurance policy. “It was almost […] like he was bragging about it, in a way.”
- Brady added that Morrison’s mother told her “that he had come to her around ’94 and said he thought he might be HIV positive.”
- Later in the deposition, when asked if the rehab counselor’s intake report and psychiatrist’s letter were “consistent with” what Morrison told her circa 2000-2001, she answered “Yes.”
- Brady also recounts how, during an ESPN interview at their home, Morrison “was talking to the reporter there and kind of like bragging that he knew about it since ’89, and he was kind of laughing about it.” When that happened, she “kept telling him to shut his mouth and he just kept on.” It got bad enough that she called Tommy’s attorney, who “got on the phone and said, ‘you know, you’re opening yourself up to a lot lawsuits by telling people that you knew in ’89, you know, all the women you slept with, you could open yourself up to a lot of lawsuits.” That snapped Morrison out of telling the reporter any more, “but he kept telling other people.”
- When asked if it was “fairly common” that Morrison would tell people that he was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1989, Brady said that “I remember telling him, you know, that makes you sound like a monster if you knew then in ’89 and then you chose to go to still sleep with all these women and put them in at risk and not tell them and not use condoms. And he just kind of laughed it off.” He never told her why he did it.
Since the NAC now has knowledge that this happened and are even relying on the information in court, what are the potential fixes that they could implement?
One potential solution would be for Nevada and other commissions with similar procedures to require fighters to go to a lab’s walk-in facility (like the many locations that Quest has across the country) to get the actual blood draw. There would be greater control on the blood draws without placing too many geographical limits on the fighters.
LawNewz has reached out to the NAC for comment on this story and will update this article if we hear from them.
[Screen Grab via Official Rocky Balboa on YouTube]