Bay Area Reporter
Copyright © 2006 Bay Area Reporter, a division of Benro Enterprises, Inc.

Jock Talk:
College wrestler faces HIV charges

A former national junior college wrestling champion is being charged in Missouri with multiple counts of knowingly exposing sexual partners to HIV in a case that raises issues regarding the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and homophobia.

Michael L. Johnson, 22, was arrested by St. Charles, Missouri police in October after a five-month investigation that began when a resident told them he was diagnosed with HIV and gonorrhea one month after having bareback sex with Johnson in Johnson's dorm room on the Lindenwood University campus.

Johnson, a physical education major, was dropped from the university wrestling team upon his arrest. Last week, county prosecutors added more charges after four more male Lindenwood students came forward saying they had unprotected sex with Johnson. He now faces five felonies: one for recklessly infecting another person with HIV, and four for recklessly exposing someone to the risk of infection. The first charge carries a prison term of 10 years to life, the rest five to 15 years. Police say they have recovered video Johnson shot of his encounters and that there may be as many as 30 others involved.

Under the name Michael Johnson-Jones, Johnson won the Indiana state high school championship at 189 pounds his senior year in 2010 with an overtime victory in the final match. He went on to wrestle for Lincoln College in Illinois, a community college, before enrolling at Lindenwood last year. In his final year at Lincoln, he won the 2012 National Junior College Athletic Association championship at 197 pounds with a 3-1 victory in the final match after finishing seventh the year before. That led his college to a third-place finish overall, an achievement that Logan County, Illinois praised with a special proclamation that April.

Johnson is an African American man who was raised with three brothers by a single mother. News stories about him on the Internet are accompanied by racist, hateful, violent comments from straights and gays alike. There are online exchanges about who is at fault, the importance of using protection, of taking personal responsibility.

Those who knew him express shock and sadness. Entries on his Facebook page, on which he called himself "Tiger Mandingo" and he last updated in October before his arrest, show a barely literate young man who like so many at that age was searching for answers in God and love. He shows off his muscular body in numerous bare torso pictures and writes about his discovery of the meaning of Eros, Agape, Philos, and Storge – the four Greek-based terms for love immortalized by C.S. Lewis – with all their propensity for our darkest and brightest moments.

"I'm a fun fabulous sweet person with a huge heart and personality and we as people have feelings," he wrote. "Stand up for those who are different. Everyone deserves love and kindness and most of all respect!!!!"

What emerges is a portrait of a young black athlete isolated by ignorance, homophobia, and fear, searching for love and acceptance while hiding in plain sight along the banks of the Mississippi.

In 1992, I interviewed Magic Johnson for the Advocate about his HIV infection and his newfound activism. He spoke about the lack of resources and education of regarding HIV and AIDS in urban centers with large African American cities. He spoke about the lack of acceptance of gays within his community. He talked about his hopes resources would be reallocated, community conversations would be held, information would supplant ignorance, and acceptance would usurp hatred.

More than two decades later, the picture seems as bleak as ever.