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Pavlovian Response to Boxing Death

BY Editor ON September 23, 2005
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NEW YORK (September 24, 2005) – There are some things you can count on. No sooner had the tragic passing of Leavander Johnson been announced to the public than the medical professionals started chiming in about abolishing boxing.

The first medicos out of gate were the men in white coats from New Zealand, whose Medical Association is demanding that boxing be banned. Dr. Peter Foley, the GP Council chairman, claims “boxing is a form of interpersonal violence unacceptable in modern society.” He says “we condemn other sorts of violence, so it is high time boxing was condemned as well.”

It seems old Doc Foley may have confused the Hippocratic Oath with the Hypocrite’s Oath, and he’s not the first nor last of his kind, but he should turn his attention to healing the sick, and leave the resurrecting to us.

People have been calling for the abolition of boxing for as long as there was boxing to abolish. In the old days the crusade was fueled by the prudes, the bluenoses, the teetotalers, the burn-in hell-repent-you-sinners bible-thumpers. Throw in an opportunistic politician or three, get some compromised newspaperman to beat the drum loudly in the media, and what should be a non-issue – two men fighting – gets lumped with prostitution, drug addiction, white slavery, you name it … while the bull spews from the bully pulpit.

Nowadays, whenever there’s a fatality in the ring, the doctors are the first to step up to the plate. We in the boxing community grant them all due respect – they do, after all, have scalpels – and let them have their say, no matter how disagreeable, no matter how off the wall. There’s no disputing that, from a medical standpoint in boxing, things have never been better, but the meat wagon is still in use (it’s just harder to see, hidden as it is behind an ambulance).

According to The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, nearly 900 boxers have died since 1920 as a result of injuries in the ring.

"It is time to ban boxing,” the editorial said, “a sport in which death is the predictable outcome of athletic proficiency … even among prizefighters who walk away, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates 15-40 percent of ex-boxers have some form of chronic brain injury and most professional fighters – whether they have apparent symptoms or not – have some degree of brain damage."

Every punch causes brain damage, but so does watching too much TV.

When the writer Carlo Rotella was asked about the abolition of boxing, he said, “Nobody becomes a boxer by accident. You have to significantly depart from the path of least resistance to even find the fight world, and it's very hard for men and women who try boxing to stick with it. Fighters aren't pushed into boxing; they're drawn to it, and usually for reasons other than money.

“If your main motivation is to prevent the harm done to the bodies and futures of fighters, then you can save more bodies and futures by abolishing scholastic football, or fast-food franchises, or fashion advertising. If you're really worried about brain damage, abolish action movies: you'll save many more minds in the long run.”

Not everyone agrees. Take, for example, Dr. George D. Lundberg. He ignited the debate about banning boxing in 1983 when, as editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), he railed against boxing and called it an "obscenity" that "should not be sanctioned by any civilized society."

And not a word about universal health care? Say, what’s up, Doc?

Lundberg predicted in a 1986 JAMA editorial that by the year 2000 boxing would be banned.

Wrong again.

When reason fails to persuade those who love their opinions more than they love hard facts, maybe some numbers will help them see the light.

Boxing 10 deaths a year
College Football 11 deaths a year
Hang Gliding 169 deaths a year
Horse Racing 23 deaths a year
Motorcycle Racing 77 deaths a year
Mountaineering 308 deaths a year
Scuba Diving 1100 deaths a year
Skydiving 370 deaths a year

We can’t help but conclude that scuba diving is bad for your health; but instead of abolishing scuba diving – or boxing, for that matter – let’s open our hearts, let’s join hands, let’s put our heads together, and abolish the abolitionists.

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