On the court he made it look easy, vaulting over the color bar as gracefully as he leapt the net. His talent took him from the segregated playgrounds of Richmond, Va., to triumphs at both the U.S. Open and Wimbledon—the only black man to win either. But it was off the court, at an agonizing press conference last April during which he acknowledged being HIV positive, that Arthur Ashe, 49, showed his heart. Compared with Magic Johnson—whose own disclosure that he had contracted the AIDS virus was tinged with optimism and hope—Ashe was somber. Four years ago he discovered that he had been infected with HIV through a blood transfusion after heart surgery; he believes it was in 1983. But his anguish at having to sacrifice his family’s privacy—USA Today had threatened to break the story—struck the deepest chord of all. “What I objected to was not being able to choose” when to disclose it, he says.
What Ashe has chosen is to “feel emboldened and empowered” by his illness. Although time with his photographer-wife, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, 41, and their 6-year-old daughter, Camera, gets priority, Ashe has plunged into the fight against AIDS. The Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS will begin dispensing funds next summer. “You come to the realization that time is short and these are extraordinary conditions and you have to step up,” he observes.
So far daily doses of the drugs AZT and DDI have helped ward off infections. Depression is apparently not a problem. “If I ask, ‘Why me?’ about my troubles, I would have to ask, ‘Why me?’ about my blessings,” Ashe explains. “Why me marrying a beautiful, gifted woman and having a wonderful child? I take the good with the bad, and I try to face them both with as much calm and dignity as I can muster.”