The Lessons of the Derek Boogaard Tragedy: Could This Be a Problem In Boxing?

I don't know about you guys but I'm also a big fan of hockey. An absolutely fantastic article by John Branch in the New York Times caught my eye. It's the story of enforcer Derek Boogaard. For those who don't know, enforcers in hockey are there to protect the stars of the team and to get in fights with members of the other team. Fighting is significantly less frowned upon in hockey than other sports and it is even encouraged at certain points.

Derek's story is a tragic one, where the lethal mixture of Oxycotin and alcohol ended his life at the young age of 28. However, his story does not stop there. In the video here, his family remembers his last couple of fights and they point out things that did not seem right.

In Derek's last fight, he gets thrown to the ice face first which leads to a concussion. This concussion would be the last of many. During his career, Derek admitted to "getting his bell rung" upwards of 10 times. Concussions have recently been in the spotlight for hockey with arguably the best player in the world Sidney Crosby suffering from symptoms for over a year. Derek's death led to an investigation by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy where they found that Derek had brain degeneration. Likely his chronic traumatic encephalopathy was caused by the many fights that he had in his hockey career, and by "getting his bell rung" repeatedly.

Naturally, this led me to thinking about boxing. I hope that you watch the video posted, and keep saying to yourself "Is this happening in boxing?'

Over an amateur and professional career, how many times would a typical boxer "get his bell rung?" Is that indicative of a concussion and is there any way to test for concussions? Now it is generally thought that fighters who get counted out from a knock down have suffered a concussion. This most likely happened to Ricky Hatton against Manny Pacquiao. However, someone can suffer a concussion and still function after a short recovery period. Is this what we see when a fighter gets his legs back?

A recent report by Di Russo in Psychophysiology found that boxers who had been boxing for an extended period of time had slower reaction times than non-athletes. Also there was a correlation between reaction time and length of boxing career, which means that boxers more susceptible to injury are less likely to avoid being punched in the face. Evidence also suggests that the loss in function is likely due to the accumulation of blows to the head. Meaning that a "warrior" is likely to have brain problems whereas a "cutie" should have significantly less impairment, just based on styles.

Is it the responsibility of boxing organizations to save the boxers from themselves? The libertarian side would suggest that people who get hit in the face for a living should be responsible for knowing the consequences of going into such a sport. The humanitarian side would suggest that watching one person inflict brain damage on another person is sick and shouldn't be a sport. These would be the two extreme views -- the answer being somewhere in the middle.

My personal view is that concussion testing should be mandatory after every single bout. After a boxer has sustained a certain number of concussions, the boxer should be forced into retirement. We have seen too many boxers develop Parkinson's Disease and Pugilistic Dementia. The boxing community needs to look at the current state of boxing science and make an informed decision. The ideal solution would allow great boxing to happen but severely limit the amount of post-career brain trauma. What would be your ideal solution for this problem?

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