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Former University of Illinois football player Todd Searcy tells of being gay, battling AIDS

Todd Searcy played for Illinois in the Eighties.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Todd Searcy played college football for the University of Illinois, helping the Illini make the Rose Bowl in 1984 as a 185-pound linebacker. All that time he was leading a double life as a closeted gay man.

"I would leave my college friends after a night out and they were asleep, and go to the gay bars," Searcy said. "I literally was like a double agent."

In 1993, he tested negative for AIDS, but would not find out until 2003 that the test was a false negative. (Searcy explains it further in a comment he posted below). Searcy has been battling the disease since and each day is a struggle.

He has finally allowed his story to be told by Martha Quetsch of the Patch website in Geneva, Ill., where Searcy was a standout high school athlete. Her three-part story was published last week.

Because Searcy had falsely tested positive, the AIDS virus damaged his immune system and at one point he thought he was going to die. "I was shocked," he said. "My viral load (amount of HIV in the blood) was approximately 250,000 [100,000 is considered dangerous]. What I heard was basically, ‘You are dead.’ "

Anti-AIDS drugs have helped keep him alive and he uses medical marijuana to fight side effects of the drugs. With the help of his parents, Searcy lives in Arizona where he struggles with the disease and its myriad effects every day. He has been buoyed by the acceptance his parents, friends and former Geneva High teammates and coach have shown him since he came out to them.

His story, which is long but well worth reading, follows the trajectory of many gay athletes who fear the worst if people knew about his sexual orientation; Searcy, it seems, has finally found acceptance.

"It took me more than 30 years to figure it out," Searcy said. "I couldn’t expect others to do differently."