This week in 1992, tennis great Arthur Ashe became a champion both on the court and off when the legendary athlete announced he was stricken with the AIDS virus. Flanked by his wife, Jeanne Moutoussamy Ashe, Ashe bravely stood in front of the media on April 8 of that year and promised to combat his condition and to help others stricken with the virus. With that in mind, he used his resources to establish a pair of organizations that exist to this day.
Ashe, the first, and only, Black man to win the single’s title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open, retired from tennis in 1980. The Richmond, Virginia native made history first by becoming the first Black player to make the United States Davis Cup squad prior to his Grand Slam wins.
At the press conference in New York, Ashe revealed that he learned of his condition in 1988 after being diagnosed with toxoplasmosis, an AIDS-related illness. It is believed that he contracted the virus by way of a blood transfusion after two heart surgeries.
Ashe appeared thinner than normal and spoke slowly, but kept his head held high despite the immense pressure he felt to reveal his illness. USA Today was going to break the story, so Ashe staged the conference to be the first to tell the news on his own terms.
Ashe created the Arthur Ashe Foundation To Defeat AIDS, which later became an endowment program. He also established the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. In 1993, as his health began to fail, he continued work on the manuscript for his autobiography, Days Of Grace.
Ashe completed the book a week before his death from AIDS-related pneumonia on February 6, 1993. He was survived by his wife and their daughter, Camera. Ashe was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the summer of 1993.
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