Melvina Lathan, Chairperson
New York State Athletic Commission
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New York, NY 10038
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New York State Athletic Commission’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Barry Jordan
Committed to Protecting Boxers in New York State
Not everyone may know, but one of the most prominent individuals surrounding a boxing match, outside of the combatants, resides outside the ring and starts their job days and weeks before the opening bell of the very first match on a card. The Commission’s Chief Medical Officer is vital to the sport and is responsible for clearing fighters from a health perspective and ensuring that their safety comes first, in addition to an array of other roles, during a boxing card. It is a role that Dr. Barry D. Jordan relishes.
Dr. Jordan was re-appointed in 2011 by New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to his third stint (’87-’95 and ’00-’08 were the others) as Chief Medical Officer for the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC). NYSAC is a division within the New York Department of State that oversees the regulation of professional boxing contests, matches, and exhibitions within the State of New York. The Commission is comprised of three members appointed by the Governor, in addition to physicians, a Medical Advisory Board, and other staff to ensure that medical and safety standards in the sport are met.
Growing up, Jordan was first introduced to the sweet science as a 10-year old while watching former World Heavyweight Champion and American icon, Muhammad Ali, fight on television in his family’s Brooklyn living room. Although he was an avid boxing and sports fan, Jordan decided when he was attending the University of Pennsylvania that he wanted to pursue medicine, mainly in the field of neurophysiology. At this point, Dr. Jordan already also had his eye towards treating athletes. After graduating with a Doctorate of Medicine from Harvard University with a concentration in Sports Medicine in 1981, he went on to become Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology at Cornell University Medical College.
Fast forward to 1983 and Dr. Jordan gravitates towards the sport of boxing. He is offered a job as a ringside physician for NYSAC, finally combining his two passions. And then a 1985 incident helped propel his career.
A boxer was seriously-injured during a match he was attending as a ringside physician, with possible life-threatening injuries. Fortunately, with the leadership of Dr. Jordan and other ringside physicians, the boxer’s life was saved. It was during this period that he had the privilege of being mentored by former Light Heavyweight Champion and NYSAC Commissioner at that time, Jose Torres. A few years later, Dr. Jordan was named Chief Medical Officer for NYSAC. States Dr. Jordan: “I owe a debt of gratitude to Jose Torres, who appointed me as Chief Medical Officer at NYSAC in 1987. I was thankful that he had the confidence in appointing me to that position, given that I was only 32 at the time.”
Dr. Jordan’s responsibilities as Chief Medical Officer are plentiful. He thoroughly reviews the medical records of each contestant before the bout and from a medical and neurological standpoint, determines if the boxer has any conditions, such as hematomas, that may predispose him to more serious injury. Any boxer who competes in the State of New York must pass a number of exams, including a MRI scan, eye exam, and an electrocardiogram and must be checked for hepatitis and HIV.
During the boxing match itself, he oversees a team of ringside physicians and he has the authority to stop a fight if it is in the best interest of the fighter’s health. Dr. Jordan continued, “To determine whether I should stop a fight, I establish how the boxer is performing. For instance, I’d analyze their skills and reflexes and determine if they are actively throwing punches, and if they are able to defend themselves effectively from incoming punches. I also analyze the boxer’s body language when they are in their corner.”
He also meets with NYSAC’s Medical Advisory Board to discuss and review important medical policy issues and then relay’s the Board’s recommendations directly to NYSAC for possible implementation.
Dr. Jordan has taken an additional role in his medical career. He was recently named the Assistant Medical Director for the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and when asked how that will compliment his work with NYSAC, he replied, “working with patients who have brain injuries provide me an opportunity to better diagnose boxers with potential brain trauma.”
As a matter of fact, he has already made serious inroads in this regard. Dr. Jordan counts a study he published in 1997 in which he discovered a possible gene that would increase a boxer’s risk of neurological impairment as one of his most significant accomplishments as NYSAC’s Chief Medical Officer.
While Dr. Jordan looks forward to serving NYSAC for years to come, he does understand what lies ahead of him. He goes on to say, ”I believe the biggest challenge going forward in boxing or any contact collision sport would be properly diagnosing chronic traumatic brain injuries.” When asked what legacy he’d like to leave behind for future NYSAC Chief Medical Officers, Dr. Jordan replies, “Any legacy that a Chief Medical Officer leaves behind should be to make sure that each boxer’s health and safety are paramount and to ensure that no one sacrifices a boxer’s health for any type of commercial or political reasons or gain.”
This unwavering commitment to serve NYSAC and the boxers who ply their trade in New York State is surely music to the ears of everyone in the boxing industry in the State.