By Sean Crose
Now that 2013 is wrapping up, the world of boxing has a lot to be proud of. Great fights, great story lines, and high drama both in and out of the ring have made the past twelve months a fan’s dream. Let’s hope things only continue or – do I dare say it? – get even better in 2014. Still, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed before it further undermines what may potentially be the beginning of a golden age. That issue, of course, is PED use.
PED’s, Performance Enhancing Drugs, have been around the sport’s world for ages. In most people’s minds, they pertain to the realms of baseball, football, and (thank you, Lance Armstrong) cycling. Unfortunately, however, that’s not the case. No one knows how prevalent PEDs are in the world of boxing at the moment, but these substances have clearly had an impact on the sport. Just ask Bandon Rios. Or Marcos Maidana.
While boxing’s unending line of commissions has indeed taken steps to battle the problem, those steps have clearly proven ineffective. Doctor Margaret Goodman, President of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, told Brent Brookehouse at Bloody Elbow last February that “the greatest problem with the current system is that commission’s protocols are archaic.”
Dr. Goodman is a fascinating figure. A former ringside physician and writer for Ring Magazine, she was hesitant at first to lead the charge against the PED invasion. “Truthfully,” she told Brookehouse, “it was never a cause I wanted to take on. It certainly isn’t something that wins you any friends or admirers.”
Yet Dr. Goodman is a brave soul. Unlike some of today’s top participants in boxing, she doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Therefore, she created the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association – VADA for short. As she told James “Smitty” Smith on In This Corner, the point of VADA is “not really to test fighters so much.” It’s for the world to “learn more about performance enhancing drugs and how they’re being used in boxing and mixed martial arts.”
While VADA has certainly succeeded in exposing PED usage in boxing, there is still a lot of work to do. VADA’s high end, cutting edge drug tests are voluntary, after all. Fighters don’t have to take them. And many perhaps don’t want to. Or at least elements within their camps don’t want them to. As Goodman herself has explained, some fighters don’t even know what they’re putting in their bodies. Still, she points out, it’s their responsibility to know if they’re playing by the rules or not.
So how does Goodman think PED use can be battled, really battled, when boxers don’t even have to take some of the most reliable drug tests out there? For one thing, she wants there to be more cohesiveness among all the commissions which deal with boxing and mixed martial arts. Why, after all, should some commissions be more lax than others?
Perhaps even more importantly, though, she wants fighters to submit to something many employees have to submit to outside of the boxing ring: random drug testing. It’s a brilliant idea. A boxer who has no clue when he or she will be required to engage in top notch testing (“Our testing is very stringent,” Goodman told Smith) will be less inclined to take PEDs.
Of course, not everyone wants to tackle the PED problem the way Goodman does. Some may even prefer to do nothing at all. Or to have PEDs legalized in the hope that oversight of some kind will somehow soften the blow to those who use and are affected by them. I myself don’t buy this argument.
“Sometimes,” Goodman told Smith, “withdrawing off of some of this stuff is just as bad as withdrawing off of other, you know, illegal drugs.”
Does that sound good to you? Does it sound good for boxing?