Dr. Margaret Goodman, former ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission and founder/president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), said she’s excited VADA can help offer an educational opportunity to professional and amateur boxers, MMA fighters, trainers and managers.
On Friday, November 15, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Nevada is hosting the health event from 5:45 -8:45 p.m. Admission is free and is being sponsored by VADA as well as the Cleveland Clinic. Program topics will include recognizing signs of a concussion, the effects of repetitive head trauma, maintaining optimal nutrition amidst the challenges of rapid weight loss and understanding performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
“The core mission of VADA has always been education,” said Goodman. “Fighters cannot make an informed decision regarding their health and future if they don't have the facts. Too often fighters are simply told what to do without sufficient explanation.”
Goodman wants to change that. She said education is important for all parties involved in combat sports, but especially to its participants. Moreover, she said young fighters typically don’t have the access they need to educational resources that can help them make informed decisions.
“Not every fighter, especially when they begin their career, has access to experts,” said Goodman. “As a result, they develop poor eating habits resulting in eating disorders, they don't recognize the symptoms of a concussion, they train when they should rest, they have misinformation regarding handling the stress of competition or getting over a loss, or they subject themselves to medications or PEDs that may be illegal and harmful.”
Per its mission statement: “VADA aspires to educate participants, commissions and the public about the risks of using performance enhancing drugs as well as the benefits of utilizing effective nutrition and training practices.” It seems to have found a likeminded partner.
Since 2011, the Cleveland Clinic has examined the cumulative effects of repetitive concussive and subconcussive injuries to the brain in a group of professional boxers and MMA combatants. One of the speakers scheduled to appear, Dr. Charles Bernick, is the Associate Medical Director at the clinic and the principal investigator of the study.
Other speakers include anti-doping advocate Don Hooton, notable sports psychologist Dr. Caroline Silby and training and nutritional expert Jimmy Smith.
Hooton is president of The Taylor Hooton Foundation (THF), which was formed in memory of Hooton’s son, Taylor, a 17-year-old high school athlete from Plano, Texas who took his own life after PED use. It is believed Taylor’s suicide was related to the depression he felt upon discontinuing his use of anabolic steroids. The foundation was formed to provide advocacy against performance enhancing substance abuse by young people.
“This is our foundation’s first opportunity to become actively involved with combat sports,” said Hooton. “But we are hoping that leaders of this sport will recognize and appreciate the importance of our messages, especially as they relate to their young fighters. We hope that they will see the value of having us educate young combatants across America, to help drive the message that drug use will not be tolerated in this or any other sport.”
Another speaker at the event, Dr. Caroline Silby, has a Ph.D. in sports psychology and competed in the 1984 Olympic Trials. She said she was happy to help with the project after speaking with Dr. Goodman.
“I think we are all involved because we want to provide athletes with the best chance for a successful sport experience while simultaneously preventing them from having to experience long-term emotional or physical distress due to their involvement,” said Silby. “When those of us who work with athletes in a variety of disciplines come together to openly discuss with the athletes topics of importance to their performance as well as health and well-being, we create opportunities for awareness and empowerment.”
Smith, a training and nutritional expert, concurred.
“I believe that fighter safety is an issue that continually needs to be monitored and updated,” said Smith, who believes there are safe alternatives to dangerous PEDs.
“I've worked with multiple mixed martial artists from a variety of organizations from the UFC on down,” said Smith. “The topic of natural performance enhancement interests me the most, and it's important to fighters because it will give them the edge.”
Goodman, who has poured her own time and financial resources into advocating for a cleaner sport, said VADA’s mission has always been about education.
“In every career, education is the key,” said Goodman. “Seminars such as this one sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic is groundbreaking in protecting the fighters in every aspect of their career…It was what I really wanted for VADA: reaching out to fighters and trainers to [help them] take control over their career and future.”
Kelsey McCarson is a boxing writer for The Sweet Science and Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @KelseyMcCarson.