Warned ath­letes of dangers of steroids

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY MATT SCHUDEL matt.schudel@wash­post.com

Gary Wadler, who was among the first doc­tors to draw at­ten­tion to the dangers of steroids and other per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs and whose anti-dop­ing ef­forts led to stricter test­ing and sanc­tions at the Olympic Games and in ma­jor sports leagues, died Sept. 12 at his home in Port Washington, N.Y. He was 78.

The cause was mul­ti­ple sys­tem at­ro­phy, said his wife, Nancy Rise­man Wadler.

A self-de­scribed nonath­lete with “two left feet,” Dr. Wadler nonethe­less be­came a spe­cial­ist in sports medicine af­ter be­ing named the of­fi­cial physi­cian of the U.S. Open ten­nis tour­na­ment in 1980.

While work­ing at the tour­na­ment in 1986, Dr. Wadler and other of­fi­cials were asked to pro­vide urine sam­ples for drug test­ing, which led to his in­ter­est in how ath­letes sought to im­prove their per­for­mance through il­licit means.

He and an­other physi­cian, Brian Hain­line, pub­lished a 1989 book, “Drugs and the Ath­lete,” which de­scribed var­i­ous il­le­gal sub­stances used by ath­letes over the years and the dangers associated with them. (One of the ear­li­est drug-re­lated deaths among ath­letes came in 1960, when an Olympic cy­clist died af­ter us­ing am­phet­a­mines.)

Dr. Wadler, whose spe­cialty was in­ter­nal medicine, ex­am­ined the ef­fects of steroids, hu­man growth hor­mone and other per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs as a pro­fes­sor of medicine at New York Univer­sity and later at what is now the Zucker School of Medicine at Hof­s­tra/North­well in New York.

He main­tained that steroids could cause heart trou­ble and liver dam­age, as well as re­pro­duc­tive prob­lems, breast growth in men and se­vere de­pres­sion.

He cited ex­am­ples of young ath­letes dy­ing from en­larged hearts or of sui­cide af­ter us­ing steroids.

In ad­di­tion to the harm­ful ef­fects of per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing sub­stances, Dr. Wadler also warned of some­thing al­most as per­ni­cious: an un­der­min­ing of the moral­ity of sports.

“Cheat­ing strikes at the heart of the value sys­tem in the sports struc­ture,” he told USA To­day in 2003. “Sports is sup­posed to be a con­test of char­ac­ter. When it be­comes a con­test of chem­istry and phar­ma­col­ogy, that’s a tragedy.”

In 2000, Dr. Wadler helped found the World Anti-Dop­ing Agency, which over­sees drug test­ing at the Olympics, and chaired its com­mit­tee on pro­hib­ited sub­stances. He was in­stru­men­tal in draw­ing up year­round test­ing pro­ce­dures and a stiff set of penal­ties, cur­rently a four-year ban for ath­letes who test pos­i­tive.

Dozens of Olympic medal­ists have been caught cheat­ing, in­clud­ing U.S. sprinter Mar­ion Jones, who had to re­lin­quish three gold medals and two bronze medals from the 2000 Sum­mer Games af­ter she was re­vealed to have used banned sub­stances.

In 2005, af­ter base­ball had seen a steroid-fu­eled surge in home-run hit­ting, Dr. Wadler tes­ti­fied at a con­gres­sional hear­ing about the preva­lence of steroids and other drugs in the sport. He crit­i­cized base­ball’s lax test­ing stan­dards, which nev­er­the­less turned up a sub­stan­tial num­ber of play­ers abus­ing per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs.

He also lashed out at the Na­tional Foot­ball League for ig­nor­ing what he con­sid­ered the wide­spread use of steroids and hu­man growth hor­mone (HGH). As part of a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2006, Dr. Wadler ex­am­ined the records of a South Carolina doc­tor who was later sen­tenced to prison for pre­scrib­ing large amounts of per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs to NFL play­ers.

“When I travel around the world,” Dr. Wadler said in 2007, “the first thing peo­ple ask [is] ‘Why do you let play­ers get away with this stuff?’ It’s the player as­so­ci­a­tions. They should be look­ing out for the real health and wel­fare of their mem­bers, not just fi­nan­cial health. It will be the clean ath­letes who don’t want this prob­lem to grow who will make the dif­fer­ence.”

Un­der pres­sure from the pub­lic, Ma­jor League Base­ball and its pow­er­ful play­ers union even­tu­ally agreed to harsher penal­ties, in­clud­ing a 50-game sus­pen­sion for a pos­i­tive first test. The NFL be­gan to test for HGH in 2014.

Gary Ir­win Wadler was born Jan. 12, 1939, in Brook­lyn. His fa­ther was a win­dow dresser for stores, his mother a teacher.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Brook­lyn Col­lege, Dr. Wadler re­ceived his med­i­cal de­gree in 1964 from Cor­nell Med­i­cal School (now Weill Cor­nell Medicine) in New York. He had a med­i­cal prac­tice in Man­has­set, N.Y., where he was chief med­i­cal res­i­dent at North Shore Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal.

As the physi­cian at the U.S. Open in 1991, Dr. Wadler ad­vised Jimmy Con­nors to give up drink­ing soft drinks through­out the tour­na­ment to pre­vent cramp­ing.

“There’s caf­feine in cola, and caf­feine is a di­uretic,” Dr. Wadler told Newsday in 2003. “You’re play­ing five-set matches in the heat, you’re go­ing to have a real prob­lem with de­hy­dra­tion. With­out the cola, Con­nors’s cramp­ing dis­ap­peared.”

At the age of 39, Con­nors had one of the most re­mark­able per­for­mances in U.S. Open his­tory, over­com­ing younger com­peti­tors be­fore fi­nally los­ing in the semi­fi­nals — a tour­na­ment Con­nors later called “the great­est of my life.”

In ad­di­tion to his anti-dop­ing work, Dr. Wadler was an ad­viser to the Jus­tice Depart­ment and a White House drug con­trol panel. He chaired the med­i­cal ad­vi­sory board of the Amer­i­can Bal­let Theatre and edited a book, “The Healthy Dancer.”

Sur­vivors in­clude his wife of 45 years, Nancy Rise­man Wadler of Port Washington; two chil­dren, David Wadler of New York and Erika Wadler of Los An­ge­les; a brother; and two grand­chil­dren.

In 2004, Dr. Wadler was the found­ing chair­man of the Tay­lor Hooton Foun­da­tion, which seeks to ed­u­cate young peo­ple about the dangers of per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs.

It is named for a high school base­ball pitcher in Texas who com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter tak­ing steroids.

One of Dr. Wadler’s great­est fears was the pub­lic would grow numb to the pres­ence of steroids and would be­gin to ac­cept them — and their dangers — as a part of the mod­ern sport­ing land­scape.

“If we fail at this, if we let this prob­lem go unchecked,” he said in 2004, “the play­ing field will no longer be level,” he said. “We can­not al­low this kind of be­hav­ior to rule the day and become the preva­lent cul­ture. Peo­ple will lose faith in sports.”

GER­ALD HER­BERT/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Gary Wadler, who tes­ti­fied on Capi­tol Hill in Washington in 2005, led ef­forts to toughen test­ing and penal­ties for us­ing per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs. His was one of the strong­est voices fight­ing against per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs in sports. “Sports is sup­posed to be a con­test of char­ac­ter,” he said.

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