By Thomas Hauser
When Hasim Rahman was knocked out by Lennox Lewis this past November, the first person to reach him was a woman with long red hair dressed in a black Gucci pants suit with a black leather collar. There was a time when the sight of a woman tending to a fallen heavyweight champion might have seemed incongruous. But Dr. Margaret Goodman has earned the respect of the boxing community as a pioneering ring physician.
Goodman was born in Toronto. Her father was a musician, who played the saxophone and clarinet, managed several rock groups, and ultimately became a record producer. When she was seven, the family moved to Southern California, and Margaret became a child of Beverly Hills.
"Broadway Danny Rose was the story of my father's life," says Goodman. "In the 1950s, he managed a group called The Diamands that had hits with Little Darlin', Walking Along, and The Stroll. He worked with Brook Benton and Dinah Washington. He started Sonny & Cher and the Righteous Brothers. But what always happened was, he'd take them to a certain point, and then somebody big with a recording studio and more clout in the industry would come along and take them away from him."
Still, music was the love of young Margaret's life. "I was a daddy's girl," she acknowledges. "I'd follow my father to nightclubs and concerts. He taught me how to read music and sing. And it was my father who got me interested in boxing. I used to watch fights on TV with him. Then I started drawing pictures of boxers in elementary school. Even at that age, I was attracted to fighters' physiques and the definition in their bodies."
Goodman was self-trained as an artist, but she was pretty good. By the time she entered college at UCLA, she was drawing a lot in her spare time; mostly black-and-white charcoal drawings.
"Several of my sketches were put on display in a local gallery," she recalls. "Someone from Collier Publishing saw them; and I was commissioned to supply artwork for lithographs that went into office buildings and hotels. Then, after college, I wasn't sure what to do. My father always wanted to be a doctor. I think that's road he wanted me to travel, but he also wanted me to be happy. And I loved singing. That's what I really wanted to do. So I had a heart-to-heart with my father, and he told me, 'If you want to be a studio singer, you'll do fine. But if you have your heart set on becoming the next Barbra Streisand, go to medical school.'"
Ergo, Goodman enrolled at Chicago Medical School. But it was expensive, and she had to make ends meet. Thus, while some of her contemporaries were partying their way out of medicine, Goodman worked her way through school by singing on weekends at nightclubs in Chicago. Old standards; Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern. "I always thought I'd keep that up," she says with a rueful smile. "But I haven't, and that's kind of sad."
Goodman graduated from medical school in 1984. An internship and residency at UCLA and the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital followed. Then, in 1988, she moved to Las Vegas and joined a group practice. "I was the tenth neurologist in a city of 750,000 people," she remembers. Eight years later, she went out on her own. Her practice today is roughly fifty percent headache management (migraines, head injuries, etc.) and fifty percent general neurology.
Meanwhile, boxing was working its way into Goodman's life.
"I used to watch fights on television whenever I could," she recalls. "One night, I was at home waiting to see Terry Norris against Simon Brown, when it was announced that the fight had been cancelled because Brown was experiencing dizziness. I heard Jim Lampley say, 'They're calling in Dr. Margaret Goodman, a neurologist.' And I said to myself, 'Omigod! That's me.' So I saw Simon. That was my first contact with boxing as a physician. And after that, I drove Flip Homansky crazy."
At the time, Homansky was chief ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission and Chairman of the Commission's medical advisory board. He and Goodman had known each other professionally through his work as an emergency room doctor and her role as a neurologist. Ultimately, they would develop a close personal relationship and he would become her professional mentor insofar as boxing was concerned. But for a while, he viewed her as an attractive nuisance.
"For three years, I followed Flip around like a little puppy dog," Goodman acknowledges. "First, it was 'How can I get into boxing? What do I have to do to become a ring doctor?' Flip told me, 'Go to the amateurs.' So I went to the amateurs; did physicals and worked the corners. It's hard to get doctors to work the amateurs. There's no pay, no glory; you're doing forty physicals an hour under sweatshop conditions, so they were happy to have me. And at the same time, I was going to every professional fight possible. I couldn't always get passes for the big ones, but I went when I could. Finally, in 1994, a spot on the medical staff opened up and I got it. But they didn't give me fights. They sent me to cover professional wrestling."
The Nevada State Athletic Commission has ten doctors who serve on a per diem basis. Goodman is now the Commission's de facto chief ringside physician and Chairman of its medical advisory board. "The jobs can be distilled into two words," she says. "'Safety' and 'fairness.' And you can't just show up. You have to work at it."
Goodman takes her preparation a level beyond most of her peers. Not only does she ask in advance who will be on a given fight card; she learns the history of the fighters and, when possible, watches tapes of their previous bouts.
"You have to know what a fighter has done in the past," she says. "In fact, I'm more comfortable at a big fight than a small one because I know more about the fighters."
Goodman has been assigned to Felix Trinidad's corner for his bout against Fernando Vargas; also Lennox Lewis's corner (against David Tua), Oscar De La Hoya's corner (versus Arturo Gatti), Naseem Hamed's (for Marco Antonio Barrera), and Hasim Rahman's (Rahman-Lewis II).
"Once a fight starts," she says, "the referee, inspectors, and doctors are a team. It's important that we read each other at the same time we're reading the fighters."
Goodman also worked two corners where high-stakes medical decisions were involved.
On December 1, 2000, she was assigned to Bernard Hopkins' corner when Antwun Echols body-slammed Hopkins to the canvas. The fear at first was that Bernard had suffered a torn rotator cuff or dislocated his shoulder. Goodman determined that the shoulder wasn't dislocated and that the pulse in Hopkins' forearm was strong, which meant there was no arterial damage. The most likely diagnosis was a strained shoulder. Thus, the question, "How dangerous would it be to let Hopkins continue?" Factoring Bernard's iron will and ring experience into the equation, Goodman allowed the fight to go on. Hopkins stopped Echols in the tenth round.
Goodman was also in Evander Holyfield's corner for his March 3, 2001, rematch against John Ruiz. In round eleven, Evander was badly hurt but, despite his staggering around the ring, Goodman let the fight continue. "I was comfortable with Evander's speech patterns and behavior between rounds," she says. "And like everyone else in boxing, I was familiar with Evander's recuperative powers. Also, I tend to let a big fight go a little longer than a small one, because at that level the fighters know how to take care of themselves and because of the stakes involved."
Marc Ratner, Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, is a great admirer of Goodman. "She's more than a doctor," says Ratner. "She's as conscientious and dedicated as any ringside physician in the world."
Cutman Al Gavin, who has worked numerous big-fight corners in Las Vegas, concurs. "Margaret is a refreshing change from what we're used to in boxing," says Gavin. "She knows what she's doing, and she knows what she's talking about. I hope she's around to help us for a long time."
And Emanuel Steward is in accord, saying, "Margaret does a good job during the fights. She knows when to let them go on and when to stop them. But more important, she's pushing hard to get people to realize that boxing is a dangerous sport. A lot of people care about safety, but Margaret actually works to promote it."
That last point is important, because Goodman is more than a ring physician. She is also an outspoken advocate for fighters.
"Fighters should treat boxing as a business and take an active role in everything they do from choosing a trainer to choosing a mouthpiece," Goodman posits. "And fighters should know what boxing is doing to their brain. That's the heart of the matter, really. The fighters should be better protected physically. I'm tired of the excuses. I'm sick of it. Some of these guys are hurt; they're injured; and they're allowed to keep fighting."
In keeping with that view, Goodman and Homansky have authored and edited a collection of essays that have been published in book form under the title Ringside and Training Principles. The book has been distributed throughout the boxing industry and is available for free through the Nevada State Athletic Commission to every fighter who requests a copy.
The book is part of Goodman's crusade to made boxing better. Her presence in the sport also furthers that goal.
To contact the author, please email: thauserrcn.com