Brain Injury Risk Makes Boxing Down and Out for Youth?
Individuals who play contact sports are at a higher risk for brain injuries. We’ve talked before about the attention football has received in recent months due to the brain injury risk it poses for its players, and now the spotlight has fallen on boxing due to the serious brain injury threat it presents for its participants.
Though it’s not the first time the dangers of boxing have been addressed, a recent Med Page Report discusses the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) new policy statement saying that young people should not be allowed to participate in boxing due to the sport’s increased risk for brain injury. According to the report, more than 18,000 children and teens participate in amateur boxing, and concussions account for as many as 51.6% of amateur boxers’ injuries.
That last statistic is especially troubling since “there is evidence that a child’s brain is more vulnerable to injury” and the recovery period for young people is longer than it would be for an adult. The fact that repeated brain injuries, even those injuries we classify as “mild” or concussions, can result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which makes youth involvement in the sport even more concerning.
From the spectator’s point of view, the raw, “mano a mano” nature of boxing may offer great appeal. And certainly, there’s something to be said about the awe of watching Muhammad Ali float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that The Greatest’s time in the ring may have contributed to some of the health issues he’s had to deal with later in his life—some suggest the repeated blows to the head that he endured while boxing could have something to do with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
Of course, Ali is not alone—countless boxers have experienced some sort of brain injury while participating in the sport, and many have had injuries ending in tragedy. The Med Page article reports that, sadly, more than 650 deaths caused by brain injury were reported among boxers between 1918 and 1997.
The U.S. is not alone in its attempts to address the serious brain injuries boxing can cause. The British Medical Association (BMA) has also called for a ban on boxing for children below the age of 16, and other countries have actually banned professional boxing completely. While that’s a leap we probably won’t see in the U.S. any time soon, it’s important to recognize and address the increased risk of brain injury associated with boxing and the long term harm such injuries can cause. For now, the AAP and the Canadian Pediatric Society have made the following recommendations:
- Educate parents, educators, and coaches about the hazards associated with boxing.
- Encourage teen athletes to participate in other sports, like swimming, basketball, and tennis.
- Have boxing organizations ensure that young athletes undergo medical exams before participating in the sport; make medical care available during matches; and make sure that neurological, cognitive, and eye exams are performed if the fighter shows the early signs of a concussion.
Hopefully, these recommendations will help knockout the high number of brain injuries seen among young boxers.