There was a time when the Pittsburgh area community had good reason to be proud of Richard Rydze, a native son of the Steel City. Born in 1950, he was a world-class diver in his youth, even competing in the 1972 Olympics, winning a silver medal in the 10-metre platform dive, while teammates Micki King and Craig Lincoln brought home gold and bronze, respectively, in separate diving events.
Rydze was attending the University of Michigan while competing in diving events, but upon completion of his undergraduate degree, he returned to his home town to attend at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, known by the acronym UPSOM, closely affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. You may be familiar with this, as the Pittsburgh Steelers are associated with the UPMC.
And Rydze was more than affiliated with the Steelers. You had to have assumed that by now, right? Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about him.
Rydze began working with the Steelers as a team doctor for the 1985 season, and he spent more than two decades there, leaving the team in the summer of 2007 while operating the Optimal Health Center, located on First Avenue.
If you’re a local resident, you probably know where I’ve been going with this before even clicking on the article, because he has been in your headlines. Yesterday, he was found guilty of conspiring to illegally distribute anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, and painkillers.
Now, it is important to note that the crimes that Rydez has been convicted of are not associated in any direct way with the Steelers organization, nor does the timeline significantly overlap.
As mentioned, he left the organization in 2007, but he was accused of distributing narcotic painkillers since 2005. He is said to have begun distributing human growth hormones and anabolic steroids in 2007, and the timing may have coincided with his departure from the organization…but more on that later.
It is interesting to note that he was not one of the three members of the Steelers’ training staff over the years that were named in a painkiller lawsuit filed by a litany of former players—but there is one name that does overlap.
Team physician Dr. Anthony Yates was accused of distributing an abnormal number of painkillers in in 2012 at an average of 140 doses per player, according to a report. Yet he also testified two years earlier that “a majority of NFL teams as of 2010 violated federal laws and regulations by allowing trainers to control and handle prescription medications and controlled substances when they should not have”.
According to the findings of the trial, Rydze actually used the DEA registration number provided to Yates, without his knowledge, in order to obtain Vicodin for redistribution.
It’s not difficult to speculate about the possible unknown connections that there might be to the Steelers if Rydze was illegally dispensing these sorts of things, especially in light of the ongoing lawsuit against the league, in which the organization has been prominently named, including, among others, current head athletic director John Norwig and team surgeon Dr. James Bradley. I do think that this is a league-wide issue that needs to be scrutinized in greater detail, which is something that I have written about, or alluded to, in previous articles.
In a March 2007 entry of Sports Illustrated, the paper spoke to Rydze, who told them that the HGH that he was found to have purchased was “not for athletes–never“, and that he treats elderly patients with it, including retired football players. He also told the paper that he served patients that were referred to him by the Steelers’ orthopedist.
At the time, team President Art Rooney II did not respond other than to say that “there is no evidence Dr. Rydze prescribed or provided any hormone treatments to any of our players [and he] has assured me this has never happened and never will happen”.
Rydze’s relationship with the team ended after two decades just three months later.