Boxing brain injuries frequently claim the lives of athletes in the sport — either in a literal sense or in the form of mental deterioration over time.
Unlike mixed martial arts, the old-school fight game is particularly dangerous due to the accumulation of blows that one sustains.
The thicker padding of the gloves allows fighters to absorb more trauma without realizing it. Over the course of a fight, the skull trauma is dangerous enough, but over the course of a career, it can be transformative.
Now a columnist for Newsweek (and the current Labour M.P.) has suggested that it’s time for “the sweet science” to ban head blows altogether.
Paul Flynn writes in his March 30 op-ed — triggered by the disturbing boxing brain injuries sustained by Nick Blackwell in his contest with Chris Eubank, Jr. — that it’s time to seriously look at a ban on head shots.
He even proposed as much to Parliament in a 1998 bill.
“The Queensberry rules prohibited blows below the waist,” Flynn explains. “Armed with our present knowledge that boxers are as vulnerable to blows above the neck as they are to blows below the waist, I proposed a parliamentary bill to ban blows to the head as a sensible first-step reform.”
Flynn called his bill, which ultimately failed, an attempt to “probe the mood of the U.K. parliament and the country towards this issue.”
Flynn believes that you can ban head shots in an effort to guard against boxing brain injuries and still retain the excitement and integrity of the sport.
He claims to have boxed in his younger days “and for many years reveled in the skills of the sport.” Now, however, he views it as “a degrading spectacle of gratuitous violence.”
“No longer do I applaud brilliant techniques. Instead I mourn the irreplaceable brain cells destroyed by each blow and the potential onset of early dementia.”
Flynn is right to be concerned about the dangerous nature of the sport. In the sport’s recent history (20th Century to present) there have been at least 51 in-ring deaths, and that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the fighters, who suffered early onset dementia as a result of blows to the head.
Still, there are many arguments against taking such action.
For starters, it is unlikely that audiences accustomed to the excitement of hard-hitting knockouts would want to put the genie back in the bottle.
Boxing brain injuries, it would seem, are the price you have to pay to retain that excitement level that rakes in millions of dollars in pay-per-view each year.
A sport without head shots would consist of just body punches, and it isn’t sure how easy of a sell that would be without seeing two fighters actually try it.
Many who came out against Flynn’s column wondered if that is something boxers would even want, noting that most go into the sport with their eyes wide open concerning the risks.
Still, that hasn’t stopped sports like rugby and the NFL from taking proactive measures to reduce the amount of risk that their athletes face.
Of course, the difference maker there is that the dangers involved in football and rugby are not central to the main objectives of the sport. With boxing, the primary purpose is to formulate the best line of attack on an opponent. Short of banning the sport altogether, this would be difficult to do in any exciting manner by taking out head shots, or so detractors claim.
But what do you think, readers?
Is it time to ban head shots in an attempt to eliminate boxing brain injuries? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Image via Flickr Creative Commons/@mopictures]