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Arthur Ashe made history as the first Black man to win a Grand Slam title in professional tennis. More important than Ashe’s 33 singles titles, however, was his commitment to education and social justice. As only the second prominent professional athlete to publicly admit having HIV (after professional basketball player “Magic” Johnson), Ashe’s indefatigable strength of spirit endured despite the forced disclosure. This research investigates how newspaper journalists portrayed Ashe, USA Today, and AIDS. The sample of 76 articles came from newspapers from 6 major markets nationwide and 1 regional market. The study reveals the complexities of ethical decision making for journalists in their coverage of privacy and health issues. Although there was ambivalence in journalists’ coverage of USA Today and its pursuit of Ashe, journalists collectively praised his character and commitment to humanity. Journalists framed Ashe as a victim, pioneer, role model, and hero by stressing his altruism, activism, and spirit.
The author is with the Sports Journalism Program, Indiana University School of Journalism, Indianapolis, IN, 46202.