Basketball Player Stands Up for A Moral Lifestyle

Athletes for Abstinence uses sports heroes to try to influence youths

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ON the surface, A.C. Green of the Phoenix Suns is as modern as the next guy playing in the National Basketball Association. Some of his colleagues, however, might say his value system springs straight from the peach-basket era, or at least dates to the end of the canvas-sneaker age.

Call him old-fashioned, if you wish. Green might prefer ``smart'' or ``principled,'' but whatever the label, he just wants people to listen to his message, which is that the best and safest time for sex is inside a marriage.

That sounds pretty strait-laced - not the kind of thing one expects from a professional athlete moving in a world where casual sexual encounters can be a constant temptation.

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``I'm fed up with the bombardment of sex in our society, in ads and on TV,'' he says during a phone interview with the Monitor from a New Jersey hotel room.

He also claims to be put off by what he calls the ``partiality'' of much sex education, which he says equates ``safe sex with putting on a condom and feeling that now you're going to be secure against sexually transmitted diseases.'' He adds: ``That's a sense of false security. It's encouraging kids to have sex.''

Given the challenges society faces with unwanted pregnancies, AIDS cases, abortions, and divorces, Green says that young people may not be ``getting the right alternatives.''

``We're trying to give them an external solution to a behavior-oriented problem,'' he says. ``Self-control is better than birth control - that's what this whole thing is all about.''

A deeply religious person, Green says he is not afraid to stand alone if he has to. (``One with God is a majority,'' he volunteers.) But A.C. has enlisted company for his cause: Athletes for Abstinence, a nonprofit group spearheaded by athletes but not limited to them.

Joining Green, who majored in speech communications at Oregon State University, in spreading the message are David Robinson of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, pro football stars Barry Sanders, Reggie White, and Darrell Green, and Olympic decathlete Dave Johnson.

The group has produced a combination rap and documentary video called ``It Ain't Worth It,'' which has been released by the Los Angeles-based A.C. Green Programs for Youth, which works to build greater self-esteem among young people.

Until he signed as a free agent before the current NBA campaign, Green had spent his eight previous professional seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. The irony of this is that it is former Laker teammate Magic Johnson who has become so identified with playing fast and loose in his sexual relationships.

Johnson's promiscuity was the backdrop to his surprise announcement two years ago that he was retiring because he was infected with HIV, the virus associated with AIDS.

Johnson at first became a spokesman, trying to create awareness about HIV, but later dropped off the Presidential AIDS Commission and now heads a barnstorming basketball team - Magic's All Stars - that plays various Continental Basketball Association minor-league contingents.

Green, meanwhile, works the more visible NBA, using his full potential as a role model to try to influence youth away from what he sees as the immorality and dangers of free sex.

Green, a bachelor, says his public stand on abstinence grew out of discussions with friends that predated Johnson's retirement news. ``Having 10 nieces and nephews, I felt I wanted to do something myself for them. It was a conversation I could have with them, but it was bigger than my own family.''

Interestingly, Johnson's own position has changed from advocating ``safe sex'' to something approaching Green's stand.

Could this shift have grown out of their association as teammates? ``I honestly don't know,'' Green replies. ``I can't take credit for that, but I think it may have been him asking himself: `What's really the best way?' not `What is going to be acceptable?' ''

Green says that a lot of fellow athletes are quietly supportive of what Athletes for Abstinence stands for, but they can't say it ``because they couldn't back it up with their own lives.

``Sometimes,'' he adds, ``people need to see someone go in the forefront and pave the way.''

* A.C. Green Programs for Youth, 515 S. Figueroa, Suite 2000, Los Angeles, Calif., 90071.

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