COMMENTARY

Boxing Should Be Banned in Civilized Countries -- Round 4

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Boxing should be banned in civilized countries. So trumpeted The Journal of the American Medical Association on January 14, 1983, capturing the attention of a vast worldwide audience of supporters and critics.[1] It was a stiff opening jab, but not a knockout punch. Was boxing banned? No. Was it intensely scrutinized? You bet, even including hearings in the United States Congress. The AMA and dozens of other national and specialty medical societies fell into line, demanding a ban. Even the Olympic Committees reexamined the activity. What is wrong with boxing? In addition to a host of sociologic concerns, boxing is wrong medically, since it not only kills some participants, it inflicts objectively proven chronic brain damage in as many as 80% of fighters who have had a substantial number of fights. It is wrong morally, because the intent of the "sport" is to harm the opponent in order to win, preferably by knockout -- brain damage by definition. These 2 objections, medical and moral, separate boxing from all other risk sports. What did improve? Shorter fights, referees stopping fights earlier, better medical exams by better trained doctors -- albeit of questionable ethics-- before fights. Fighters blinded by previous boxing injuries are now usually prevented from fighting. But blows to the head still damage the brain, whether acutely or long term, whether the fighter whose fist inflicts the blow is paid or not, and whether the head in which the brain resides is or is not clad with "protective" headgear. Loads of letters and Rounds 2 and 3 soon followed in JAMA, each with a new twist.[2,3] Why bring this old subject up now? Because, in addition to Mike Tyson finally declaring his ring career to be over, there have been some interesting new developments. And that's for Round 5. That's my opinion. I'm Dr. George Lundberg, Editor of MedGenMed.

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