On Nov 7, 1991 a televised interview of Lakers Basketball star, Earvin “Magic” Johnson uttered ‘the shock heard ‘round the world.’ Johnson, age 32, recently married and expecting a child, announced that he had contracted the HIV virus and was retiring. The news was startling. Possibly even, earth shattering. The audience, long desensitized to the horrors of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), an illness known (except for a minute percentage of exceptional cases, i.e. hemophiliacs) to select its targets from the pool of the socially shunned, was nonplussed. Despite Johnson’s wholesome ‘all male’ appearance, some members of the public considered Johnson had a secret life of depravity, one fraught with IV drugs and clandestine homosexual trysts.
Unable to answer that burning question about how he’d contracted the virus, Johnson (who currently ranks number 5 on the “The Quick 10: 10 Infamous Womanizers” (http://mentalfloss.com/article/23650/quick-10-10-infamous-womanizers)) is undoubtedly heterosexual. Johnson advised his viewing audience that he proposed to head a campaign for AIDS education and support safe sex behaviors .”And here I am saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/espn25/story?page=moments/7)
For the next few weeks, calls to the CDC and numerous health clinics nationwide reported an inordinate amount of telephone inquiries for information on AIDS by self-identified heterosexuals. An almost equal amount of studies to determine efficacy of “Magic” Johnson’s intended ‘safe sex campaign’ commenced by academics in a variety of disciplines, including, Public Health, Communication, Political Science, Marketing, Sociology and Psychology. What did they show? How effective will a well loved sports hero be in initiating an attitude of ‘self-concern’ to the sexually active public? How many will change their ‘at risk’ behaviors?
Scholars in many fields disagree on both the short and long term value that celebrity spokespersons can evoke. The issue of public health education, specifically methodology of AIDS education will be explored in the following pages.
Shortly after Johnson’s initial announcement he appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show and provided a platform for both Hall and news reporters to discuss his HIV status and offer insight into how he had contracted the virus. A definitive answer was not forthcoming because it still remained outside the scope of medical certainty. However, Johnson did reiterate what he was certain of, that practicing ‘safe sex’ behaviors was the best known approach to allay risk. Johnson’s purpose for exposing himself to such potential public ridicule was to be a role model in the fight against AIDS by keeping the public informed about the global implications of the disease. Old attitudes and stigmas could not be maintained in the event of his disclosure. AIDS was not a selective virus, it was something any sexually active individual needed to be conscious...