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Magic Gets Criticized by Gingrich

Pro basketball: Laker star's stand on HIV-infected combat soldiers called irresponsible.

February 15, 1996|From Staff and Wire Reports

ATLANTA — House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) criticized President Clinton and the Lakers' Magic Johnson on Wednesday for trying to keep people with the AIDS-causing virus in the military.

Although it is Pentagon policy not to send such soldiers into combat, or even overseas, Gingrich said it was irresponsible to risk putting soldiers infected with the human immunodeficiency virus into combat where battlefield blood transfusions could spread the virus.

He commented when asked about a letter the HIV-infected Johnson sent to him and Senate Republican leader Bob Dole. Johnson, who retired in 1991 after disclosing he was HIV-positive but resumed NBA play last month, urged the two Republican leaders to support a bill proposed by Clinton and several members of Congress that would repeal a provision approved by Congress requiring dismissal of people with HIV from the military.

"What Magic Johnson doesn't understand is the nature of being in the military and the danger of being in combat," Gingrich said after a speech in his district.

"No one who has ever studied seriously how bad combat can get wants to have a person in your unit who's HIV-positive, because you have a very real danger of transferring blood," he said. "It is a totally irresponsible position for the administration to take."

Upon hearing Gingrich's comments, Johnson said: "I wasn't saying they had to go into battle. What I was saying [is] they don't need to lose their jobs."

Johnson said in his letter that he is proof that "many of us who have [HIV] are continuing to lead healthy and productive lives. I hope you will do right by 1,049 service members [with HIV] and stop ignorance, fear and prejudice from forcing them to 'retire' from the jobs they love."

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