Outside the Ring: Margaret Goodman

By Jill Diamond on August 8, 2014
Outside the Ring: Margaret Goodman
“It takes a death or serious injury for regulators to make a change.” (Amy Beth Bennett/AP)

She dreamt of creating a no tolerance environment; standards that leveled the playing field and encouraged athletes to come out of their corners—clean…

Sports and Philanthropy: A series of articles dedicated to those who’ve given their all and still give more. Each article will feature a different community champion; no belts, no medals, no ratings… just good people passing it on.

She loves music. She grew up in an artistic family where the bar for excellence was high. Her father was one of the top music producers of his time. She inherited his creative determination, but she knew her talents lay elsewhere. She took risks. She was innovative. She couldn’t do it by the numbers. Her need to be exceptional drove her. Some say the same skills that make a fine musician make a great mathematician or scientist. So, Margaret Goodman traded the diatonic scale for the one at weigh-ins. Thus a complex and passionate doctor was born; one who elected to commit her life to a sport that is known for dismantling the body. The challenges were apparent. And Margaret, not satisfied with just being a woman in a man’s world, chose to be a doctor in a man’s sport. But much like a woman, Margaret is wired to nurture.  So she dreamt of creating a no tolerance environment; standards that leveled the playing field and encouraged athletes to come out of their corners… clean.

Margaret Goodman is known for her unedited crusade to rally a sport that some think of as dirty. It’s said that perception is reality. She wants the perception of our sport to change. She hopes with her organization, VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) that will happen. Margaret believes the current standard of drug testing is ineffectual. She feels that only random testing, preferably by VADA, is adequate. She is devoted to this cause, which doesn’t make her easy or girlish. But then, neither is boxing. Margaret fears that if we don’t take action, more fighters, already risking injury, will die. That the community will permit the tail to flap the dragon until the drug-riddled beast falls over and crushes us. The idea of random testing in a global sport, a sport composed of free lancers and last minute opponents, is daunting. She offers alternatives. She offers prescribed measures. She offers hope. But she can’t do it alone. She wants your help and she won’t stop campaigning until she gets it. So, Margaret Goodman is a woman on a mission. So like a woman. So like a doctor. So like a boxer. 

What makes a doctor become part of the most evocative sport on earth?

There are so many things to love about boxing. First and foremost are the athletes. They give so much of themselves. The sport itself has a hidden beauty to it—almost resembling a violent opera/ballet with a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd act (finale). Watching a fight enables one to watch the greatest human drama play out before your eyes. Two athletes that may have come together from such different places. As a physician, it is extremely rare for us to see injuries as they evolve. While a ring physician I learned so much about medicine and my specialty, neurology, while working fights. It was a gift to work every fight, whether it be a 4-rounder or championship bout.

What is your background?

I come from a musical background. My father was a very successful musician then personal entertainment manager then record producer. I trained for many years to be a singer, but probably on good advice, from my father—who could recognize exceptional talent, I went into medicine. I attended a combined internship/residency at UCLA/West LA VA, then began a private practice in neurology in Las Vegas in 1988. After serving as a Nevada State Athletic Commission neurological consultant and working USA Boxing, I began a professional ring physician in 1994-2006; and was appointed by governor to the commission’s medical advisory board chairman from 2001-2007. I had a monthly column called The Fight Doctor in The Ring for eight years, and founded the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association in 2011.

What is it about boxing you’d change?

Boxing, in the US, desperately needs federal government oversight. I am not a fan of their involvement in anything, but in this instance the fighters have little protection, little standardized medical care, and no union (as seen in the NFL and MLB) where they can bargain for better rights. I fear that the same types of litigation we are seeing from NFL concussions we will soon see in combat sports—probably deservedly!

Who are your teammates?

During a fight, boxing is very much a team sport and officials must learn to work with the cornermen and the athletes as a team to ensure a fight safely proceeds to its natural conclusion.

VADA is different. It is a tough position. In order for VADA to be effective and reliable we must be independent of everyone (fighters, trainers, promoters, commissions, networks, sanctioning bodies, etc.), but we having amazing board, officers, and have a very talented and experienced anti-doping attorney, Ryan Connolly and Dr. Don Catlin, whom many consider as the “father of anti-doping” as our scientific director. This remains a fighter-driven endeavor, and it’s the athletes themselves who have stood up and heralded clean sport through volunteering for the VADA program.

Taking on PEDS is an enormous task. What drives you?

The extreme lack of PED oversight in combat sports made me attempt to tackle this issue. I tried for a few years to see if commissions would expand their testing, etc., but they wouldn’t. All time, the usage of PEDs was expanding and endangering the lives of our athletes. Like so many things, it takes a death or serious injury for regulators to make a change. That was one reason I stopped working as a ring physician. These issues can be addressed, but it takes initiative. When no one was proactive, I decided that if I really cared I needed to begin the process myself. Through VADA shining the light on the problem, commissions are finally advancing their testing regimens and including unannounced testing.

Given all available substances, some in health food stores, how can athlete EVEN know when he’s abusing?

Athletes and their trainers need to reach out to organizations like VADA to determine if anything they are taking is prohibited, performance enhancing—or performance inhibiting. We offer free referral to everyone involved in combat sports.

What is the most common problem?

Naiveté by athletes regarding prohibited substances and that they can’t compete clean.

What will be the results if we don’t control the situation?

The results are sadly already evident—unfair, less safe bouts where the fighters suffer the consequences.

What do you say to an athlete who claims he can’t be competitive without an edge?

It’s the age-old excuse, but an inadequate one. Yes, athletes want to win at all costs, but that doesn’t mean they compromise who they are and who they strive to be. Whether they like it or not, fighters are role models. That comes at a price, but the price is to compete on a level playing field fighting fair and clean.

Can you give an example of someone who went down because of juicing?

You can include or exclude, but I don’t think we have any direct proof for no other reason than the way the sport is regulated by commissions.

Is it as bad in other sports?

I believe equally bad, by the consequences are so much greater due to the nature of boxing risks.

How do we remedy this in a global sport?

This is where the sanctioning bodies can and should take control. Of course, many fighters aren’t rated, but all professional fighters appropriately wish to be ranked and eventually fight for a title. I believe that sanctioning bodies can greatly contribute to uniformity and educations of the athletes.

What about a fighter who’s thrown in at the last minute?

I’ve been a strong believer that last minute replacements should stop.

Some praise day-before weigh-ins as sparing boxers from anxiety and dehydration. You?

I’m a big proponent of returning to same-day weigh-in, or two weigh-ins—the day before and morning of the fight. Diuretics must remain highly illegal. They can contribute to kidney disease and even renal failure.

What about the amateurs?

It often begins in the amateurs.

Where do the young athletes get their substances?

Everywhere—gyms, outside classrooms, on the street, Internet, from people they trust like trainers/coaches, from one another.

How would you level the playing field in a fair way?

Right now there’s only one way, unannounced random stringent PED testing, either year-round or a program that begins as soon as a fight is signed.

What are your immediate goals?

My only goals are for fighters to understand they can compete as successfully clean; and secondly, commissions, and especially sanctioning bodies, reach out to organizations such as VADA to expand required testing; place all fighters in a year-round unannounced random testing program to include testing for blood doping and HGH. I believe the WBC/NABF, always a leader in improving safety standards, can be the leader in tackling this problem.

In reference to doping, 60 Minutes said the fans considered horse racing only second to boxing in fixes? Your thoughts?

I don’t know if I agree with the term “corrupt.” Many have argued about possible match-fixing in the World Cup. That’s corrupt if occurring. However, in most aspects fighters are at a disadvantage due to limited government oversight. When there is oversight, too little is done. The limited attempt to stop PED use is a prime example. PED use not only contributes to unsafe fights, but unfair bouts—an uneven playing field. That is not what boxing is about!

Do you believe in probation for an abuser?

That’s too broad a question. It depends on the doping offense and circumstances, but there needs to be uniformity among commissions, sanctioning bodies, etc.

Do you go into gyms and schools and teach young athletes?

VADA has already done this. Late last year we held a wonderful seminar for amateur and professional fighters and trainers discussing PEDs, the psychology of winning, nutrition and making weight and brain injury. We had over 150 attendees. VADA would happily be involved in more events of this kind. Our website offers up-to-date articles and discussions regarding PEDs and supplements. The obstacles remain funding.  With all the sponsorship fighters are receiving, one would imagine supporting clean sport would be first on the list, but to date, that hasn’t been the case.

How are our bodies affected/damaged by these substances?

It is difficult to quantify because of the lack of studies performed since most of these substances are illegally obtained/prescribed or misused. But many can affect the heart, liver, kidneys, and some can result in cancer, heart attack or stroke.

How do you see the future?

In many respects boxing has become a niche sport like thoroughbred racing. But racing is standing up to deal with PEDs. I believe that little by little boxing will do so as well. It’s what I work towards. The attention on clean sport is more and more a topic of concern in boxing. Perhaps it’s not always for the right reasons, e.g., one fighter calling out another. But as WBC president recently stated (and I’m paraphrasing) “the dangers that fighters face are so great, it’s boxing responsibility to deal with PEDs.”

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  1. Mike Silver 07:16pm, 08/10/2014

    I always felt better when the very competent Margaret Goodman M.D. was the attending ringside physician. She is sorely missed at today’s bouts. If she had been the doctor at the Mago Abdusalamov bout he might not have been beaten into a coma. But I believe she is being naive by bringing up the WBC, or any sanctioning body for that matter, as a vehicle to help her actualize boxing safety standards. Those bums have only one purpose—collecting sanctioning fees. They are useless parasites and will never go the extra mile or do enough to help this sport. State boxing commissions are the ones who must be pressured into making the necessary changes.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:53pm, 08/08/2014

    Looks suspiciously like Robbie Peden up on the ropes in the photo above….man he was fun…...what he did to nasty Nate Campbell in their first fight was beyond beautiful!

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:36pm, 08/08/2014

    Great interview…..the very best to Dr. Goodman…..here’s what I’m thinking…if Chavez Jr/Froch is made, no special efforts will be made by NSAC to stop Baby Huey from pulling his usual shit with furosemide or anything else he feels like using because of the zillions this fight will mean to the Vegas economy. Something might pop up after the fact but you can be sure that the “inadequate panels” that Dr. Goodman references will be the order of the day to make sure that this show goes on! Which reminds me….Dr. Goodman knows that Huey walks around 210-220 and she knows far better than the rest of us what he’ll have to do to make 168…..his batshit crazy dad is proclaiming he can make 160 for Christ’s sake!

  4. Eric 12:32pm, 08/08/2014

    “Naivete by athletes regarding prohibited substances and that they can’t compete clean.” The “athletes” might be naive concerning the drugs side effects, but at a world class level, a “clean” athlete does indeed have the deck stacked against him or her if their opponent is taking PEDs. Look at former Baltimore Oriole centerfielder, Brady Anderson, for example. In 1996 during MLB’s steroid era, Anderson hit 51 homers. Anderson had never hit more 21 or 22 homers in a single season before that season. I don’t believe Anderson would ever even hit 20 homers in a season again after the 1996 season. Unless there is a great disparity in talent, size, speed, etc., it is a major disadvantage to have a “clean” athlete compete against one taking PEDs. As long as athletes have ways of cheating the tests for steroids, they aren’t going away anytime soon.

  5. Matt McGrain 11:53am, 08/08/2014

    Yeah, I love MG, always worth listening to.

  6. Eric 08:31am, 08/08/2014

    Steroids have been around for better than 70 years and I’m sure that some fighter or fighters were taking them long before the ‘80’s to now. I’m guessing that super serum that changed scrawny Stever Rogers into Captain America was a huge dosage of PEDs. teehee. Used to be fighters would follow a montonous diet of steak, steak, and more steak, for the testosterone benefits of eating beef. They actually would have benefitted more by eating raw oysters, but PEDs trounce both more natural ways of boosting one’s virility. Boxers and other athletes consumed with immediate gratification, money, fame, don’t think about how they are damaging their health. Most are young, physically superior to us normal folk and think they are invulnerable to the risks of mere mortals, or they figure the price they pay for health issues down the road are part of the cost for reaching their goals. The most moronic thing I’ve personally seen since the ‘70’s are just high school kids taking steroids just to look better. Kids who don’t even play sports but just want to look more muscular.

  7. Thomas Mendola 08:18am, 08/08/2014

    I admire Dr. Goodman’s efforts. This abuse needs to be handled in the sport to protect the fighters. All her points ring true. Bravo!

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