by David P. Greisman
Dr. Margaret Goodman, once the chief ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, has remained involved with combat sports, albeit in a different role.
She’s now the president and board chairwoman of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, a nonprofit agency that was in the headlines earlier this year when it conducted drug testing for major fights that resulted in positive tests for Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto.
Goodman spoke with BoxingScene.com earlier in August about VADA and about testing for performance enhancing drugs in combat sports. In part 1 of this interview, Goodman describes why VADA needed to be founded and how the agency came to be.
In part 2 and part 3, which will be published in the coming days on BoxingScene.com, Goodman delves into the differences in testosterone ratios allowed by various states and agencies, the costs of conducting stringent testing for performance-enhancing drugs, how and when VADA releases the results of its testing, and what Victor Conte’s role is.
BoxingScene.com: Why did you start VADA?
Goodman: “I started it after I was doing some articles for ‘The Ring,’ and I started researching the topic more myself. Obviously when I was with the Nevada commission, I was well aware of the issue at that time, but I don’t think any of us really anticipated how widespread the problem was. I think maybe because we tend to think of boxing as such a purist type of sport, you just don’t really think of boxers offhand as being subject to using performance enhancing drugs.
“And then as I started to talk to more fighters, both in boxing and MMA, I started to realize that it was much more of a problem than I anticipated. As I started to talk to fighters that were in other countries, especially down in Mexico, I would find that it was often considered to be a quick fix, especially for athletes, maybe if they didn’t have much in the way of funding, they’d hurt their hand in the gym or their elbow or their shoulder. They could go to a physician and get an injection. And lo and behold, it turned out that sometimes it was an anabolic steroid, because it would help them recover from an injury more quickly.
“I started to realize that it was a real problem. And I didn’t really want to start VADA — I mean, it wasn’t something that I ever really wanted to do — but I felt that the problem wasn’t really being dealt with thoroughly enough, just like so many other issues. There’s very few commissions that do test for performance enhancing drugs, so it seemed to be an issue that needed to be dealt with, and I have always been a huge proponent of letting the fighters do as much as they can to take care of their own health and welfare. This seemed to be a good way to do it.”
BoxingScene.com: Who has been helpful in setting VADA up?
Goodman: “Bottom line, I set it up. I’ve obviously gotten opinions from numerous individuals: Dr. Flip Homansky, who is on our board and is also an officer, was the first person to ever require or request that an athletic commission test for steroids, so he is very, very helpful in advising me; Dr. Don Catlin; Victor Conte, also; Dick Pound; our attorney, who is Ryan Connolly, has huge expertise in the anti-doping field and actually helped set up the UCLA [Olympic Analytical] lab.
“I’ve talked to numerous people. I’ve talked to a number of fighters, who will remain nameless, that have either had exposure to performance enhancing drugs or had issues with other individuals that they believed were using them, and have come to me. I’ve talked to maybe, probably 30 to 40 individuals over the last couple of years in regards to this issue. The actual setting it up was pretty much me in putting it together and figuring out what needed to be done.
“I had no idea how complicated it was to do it the right way. It’s just like anything, you just don’t understand all the nuances. I talked with Dr. Tony Butch, who runs the UCLA lab. I talked with several other individuals that work with various anti-doping labs around the country and around the world, and I also got counsel from the doping control agencies that actually collect the specimens. And through that time, I also spoke with a lot of individuals that used to be with some of the different anti-doping labs, that are either out on their own, or they’ve changed positions.
“So, various scientists in this area, in exactly what we needed to have and how involved it needed to be in order to do this the right way. You can’t really do it halfway. It either had to be done completely, or not at all.”
BoxingScene.com: What kind of roadblocks have you encountered along the way?
Goodman: “I don’t know if I’d qualify it as a roadblock, but I’d say one of the most difficult aspects of it was putting together the policies, not just management policies, but handling results, making sure that the athletes and everyone involved in the program that was participating would have enough information on prohibited substances, the collections, all of the different procedures.
“Initially, I think I was very naïve and said ‘Well, we’ll follow what WADA does, we’ll try to emulate the way USADA handles it.’ But it wasn’t that so much that as we had to develop our own and make sure it was appropriate. We had to not only do that for the athletes, but because we’re a new organization, we kind of had to prove our worth and our substance and had to come up with the right policies, even for therapeutic use exemptions.
“I think putting together all of the procedures and policies was probably the biggest roadblock, because I did not anticipate how complicated it was. And I think that our procedures and policies can stand up with anyone else that are in the anti-doping field.”
BoxingScene.com: That kind of answers my next question, which is the basis for your policies. It sounds like it’s a combination of others, plus your own research.
Goodman: “Yes, exactly. And like I said, it was an evolving process. When we were determining where we were going to have our specimens tested, initially we had spoken to the Montreal lab, which is a very respected lab run by Dr. Christiane Ayotte. She wanted to know about all our policies, the same thing with the UCLA Analytical Anti-Doping Lab. So we had to kind of prove our worth to a lot of these agencies to make sure that we were doing everything the right way. Otherwise they wouldn’t have worked with us.
“And I’m not naïve. Going into this, it’s hard to anticipate that anybody would really be happy with us doing this. When I was with the athletic commission, and I can’t even tell you exactly year this would be, when we proposed MRI testing, that was basically my baby, so to speak. I worked with Dr. Homansky at the time, and obviously the Nevada Commission was very supportive of it, but it wasn’t easy to get done.
“We had hearings, and there were promoters that testified why we shouldn’t be doing MRI scans on fighters. And always the issue is when you implement a new procedure, whether it’s a form of drug testing or a scan or anything of that nature, even though everyone says that they’re concerned about the welfare of the fighter —and I do believe that they are — they have to look at the hard line on it. Is it going to prevent fights from happening. Is it going to hold up fights from taking place?
“So this is just another area where that’s an issue. And so when you’re going to implement more complicated, expansive testing, that becomes an issue. You know, everyone wants fairness, and everyone says they want these things, but when it comes down to it, it becomes an issue. So to say that this is something that’s welcomed, I can’t voice what people’s opinions are, but I always try to look at the opposite side. And you can see how it can be scary, of concern to networks, to promoters, managers, maybe even fighters, and even athletic commissions, and that’s very reasonable.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]