MEDIA ETHICS CASE STUDY "Arthur Ashe and the Right to Privacy"
By: CAROL OUKROP Kansas State University
Authors' note: Arthur Ashe died from AIDS-related complications in February 1993.
"Tennis great Arthur Ashe has AIDS...." began the dispatch fed by USA Today to its overseas edition and the Gannett News Service April 8, 1992.
Ashe, a disciplined athlete who overcame racial barriers, was 48. He was the first African-American to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis championships. He was reluctant to go public with his disease, but was given little choice.
On April 7 he was contacted by a USA Today reporter Doug Srnith about a rumor telephoned in to the newspaper that Ashe had AIDS. After speaking with Smith, Ashe talked with USA Today's executive editor/sports, Gene Policinski. Policinski asked Ashe if he was HIV-positive, and the response was "could be." Ashe asked Policinski to delay the story for 36 hours. Policinski would not promise Ashe the delay. Ashe called a press conference for April 8.
The call from USA Today, Ashe said at the press conference, put him in the unenviable position of having to lie if he wanted to protect his family's privacy.
"I am sorry that I have been forced to make this revelation at this time. After all, I am not running for some office of public trust, nor do I have stockholders to account to. It is only that I fall in the dubious umbrella of' quote, public figure, end of quote."
Later Ashe wrote in the Washington Post that going public with a disease such as AIDS was "akin to telling the world in 1900 that you had leprosy."
Ashe was married and was the father of a 5-year-old daughter, Camera, thought to have been protected from knowledge of his disease prior to the call from USA Today Ashe had known since 1988 that he had AIDS, apparently contracted from a blood transfusion required during heart surgery in 1983. Blood was not routinely checked for the virus before 1985.
It is clear in articles...