Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day

A Day To Consider The Devastation

Every year since 1988, December 1st has been set aside as a special day of education and recognition of the world wide HIV/AIDS epidemic. On days like today, I like to take the chance to put hockey to one side for a few minutes and reflect on this important disease.

The disease is doubly devastating in the way it afflicts the sufferers and contributes to the poverty in which it flourishes. Thanks to the Global Fund and some initiatives from Western governments, more patients are receiving treatment. What's more, education about the disease (such as that against the notion that any bodily contact - allegedly held by half of China's population) is helping to make battling the disease itself easier. But as we know there is still a long way to go...

A red ribbon for World AIDS day adorning Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

Being that this is a hockey blog, I thought I would research and bring to you a story of how HIV/AIDS and hockey have crossed.

The NHL and AIDS
Since people became properly aware of HIV/AIDS and conscious of the serious complications and health issues involved, there have been stories of HIV/AIDS in the sporting world. Most famously there was Magic Johnson, who is still HIV-positive (thankfully not having progressed to full-blown AIDS thanks to treatment), and tennis superstar Arthur Ashe, who unfortunately passed away as his immune system was decimated by the disease.

The NHL has not been immune to HIV/AIDS. On World AIDS Day, and the tales of massive devastation around the world, it is worth remembering the story of Bill Goldsworthy – the first NHL player to contract HIV, and indirectly lose his life to the terrible disease.

The hockey

Bill Goldsworthy was quite a hockey player. Signed to the Bruins after some impressive seasons in the OHA, he played a total of 31 games over 2 seasons. His second year of shuttling up and down to Boston minor league affiliates coincided with the advent of the Bobby Orr era in Boston in 1966.

Bill, like many NHLers of his generation, would receive his real chance with the NHL's expansion to 12 teams from the Original 6. Claimed from the Bruins by the North Stars, Bill used his first full season to carve out a place for himself in the setup. By the playoffs, he was a scoring star (with 8 goals and 15 points in 14 games) on the team helping the up-and-coming franchise to within a game of pipping the Blues for the honour of facing the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals. Notably, he was the leading playoff scorer that year ahead of St. Louis's Dickie Moore and Stanley Cup winners Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire and Jean Beliveau.

By 1969-70, he had found some linemates he really clicked with and established himself as a reliable 30-goal man. In fact, during his heyday – the 6 seasons (450 games) from 1969 to 1975 – Bill scored 213 goals and 185 assists for 398 points. Among his achievements include a 48 goal season in 1973-74, 37 playoff points in 40 games, and being named a member (and playing for) of Team Canada for the 1972 Summit Series. He was also the first player to score 200 goals with an expansion team.

Goldsworthy was well loved in Minnesota, too. He was their first real star. He was named team captain in the mid 1970s and won fans hearts with his goal celebration dances. He was also only one of two players to have his number retired by the North Stars. His number 8 was retired in 1992.

The tragedy
The way in which Bill's life ended could not have been more unlike his playing career. After suffering through years of alcoholism, he was diagnosed with HIV in late 1994. This story from just after his passing tells a tragic tale in which the man who fought his way to the NHL and to the heights of the hockey world in the 1970s was completely knocked about by his disease:
For a while, Goldsworthy fought his fate. He worked for the Minnesota AIDS Project, attended a benefit in the Twin Cities with Johnson and took his medication. But around last Christmas, he began to make excuses not to spend time with Ness, Loerch or his children. He was drinking heavily again.

"He went to the doctor in January or February and the doctor told him as far as the AIDS was concerned, he was in great shape. He had gotten through the winter without any infections or setbacks and the doctor said he could live for a year or more," Loerch said. "He was dead within six weeks.

"He drank himself to death. Bill looked very healthy until the last few months, and that was because he started drinking. Bill was in good shape. Alcohol just takes a toll on your body.

He was the first NHL player to be confirmed with the HIV virus, but his story is common. It is just one tale of the devastation, in this case psychological, but in many others physical, sociological and economical, that HIV/AIDS can cause.

Thank you for indulging me in my tangent today. If you do feel compelled to learn more about the disease and what you can do, I recommend checking out the following sites today:

Global Fund
CBC story

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