He Changed The Conversation About This Stigmatized Illness

arthur ashe serving a tennis ball with a tennis racket
L. Graciella Maiolatesi
December 23, 2021

Arthur Ashe was a groundbreaking tennis player who won numerous world titles throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Off the court, he used his platform to speak out on social justice issues. 

He seemed unstoppable – but was secretly fighting a deadly battle.

In 1980 Ashe retired due to heart complications, leading to numerous surgeries over the years. Unfortunately, in 1988 he contracted HIV from a tainted blood transfusion during an operation.

Ashe hid this from the public for years, terrified it would impact his family. HIV/AIDS was still highly stigmatized.

 In 1992, a newspaper threatened to publish Ashe’s secret. Tired of hiding, he decided to courageously share his story with the world – even though it might mean backlash. 

Black men especially were dying of AIDS in record numbers, and he realized telling his truth could help.

He later created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, and spent his final years promoting treatments as well as “debunking the fallacy that AIDS only affected gay men” and drug users. 

When Ashe passed away in 1993, thousands of supporters gathered to honor him for all the work he’d done both on and off the tennis courts.

We have the right to decide what we want to reveal about ourselves. But being open and honest about our own struggles, as Ashe was, could have a larger benefit to the whole community!

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