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Boxing equals brain damage

By Murray Bourne, 18 Mar 2007

I've never understood boxing.

Watching people beating each other to a pulp never made sense to me as a "sport". Rocky movies? Forget it - I never went near them.

I remember when one of those world boxing championships was on and my colleague just couldn't understand why I wasn't interested in waiting up all night to watch it.

According to a BBC Health article (which is no longer available), boxing involves powerful people hitting each other repeatedly, often around the head, there are other risks - most serious of all being permanent severe brain damage.

While other injuries repair relatively easily, brain tissue, once damaged, remains damaged.

The symptoms of such brain damage - commonly known as being "punch drunk" - include slurred speech, slow reactions and even occasional blackouts.

And you can imagine the effect that repeated damage from long-term boxing has on the brain's ability to learn.

I'm very happy that:

For the moment [the British Medical Association] continues to lobby for a total ban on boxing for men or women.

I liked this suggestion from Professor Hugh Bayne:

He wrote in the British Medical Journal that doctors could make boxing illegal in the UK simply by withdrawing their support and refusing to attend bouts.

He pointed out medical cover is a legal requirement at all boxing promotions.

Just ban it. Period.

See the 30 Comments below.

30 Comments on “Boxing equals brain damage”

  1. Constance says:

    I agree, Zac.

    Why do men always have to prove themselves in such primitive ways? I've always hated boxing, too. Shouldn't there be a UN decision on it, or something?

  2. Mike says:

    I think you people need to get lives, why should it matter what people decide to do? A UN decision, I don't see why you people care. It does not effect you at all, maybe it's jealousy because it's something you could never do or understand, but as the saying goes, "People always fear what they don't understand". You don't like boxing, don't watch it, simple as that.

    Constance, people, not only MEN, people, feel they need to prove themselves in MANY other ways too, such as AMERICAN FOOTBALL (which is FAR more dangerous) and weightlifting.

    You people are very narrow minded, all I ask is to think for yourselves and not what (selective) "studies" say. (and the Ali deal) There are far more completely unharmed. Thank you and goodbye.

  3. Murray says:

    Thanks, Mike for your view. So you would:

    * Let people destroy themselves with drugs?
    * Let people drive on whatever side of the road they like,
    at whatever speed they like, with whatever level of
    intoxication they like?
    * Let people beat up their kids?
    * Let people use guns in whatever way they like to solve
    personal problems?
    * Sanction rape?

    Or would you let them do these things, then not watch because you don't like it...?

  4. Murray says:

    Hi Trevor. In each of my examples (which I agree are fairly wild!), I am talking about stopping people destroying themselves and each other.

    I also took umbrage at Mike's request to stop watching if I don't like it. I don't like war - but just by turning off the TV doesn't make it go away or stop.

    I agree with your point about homosexuality. But it is very different if you have a high risk person who does not take precautions. Once again, they are destroying themselves and destroying others.

    Isn't that what laws are for?

  5. Trevor says:

    Zac, those are ridiculous examples, boxing involves two individuals who realize and acept the risks of what they are about to engage in. Driving on the same side of the road, beating up kids, using guns, and rape all involve unwilling participants.

    The drug example MIGHT stand, but I still don't think boxing should be banned. I can pull ridiculous examples out too, I mean, if being gay causes increased incidences of AIDS, then why not outlaw homosexuality right?

  6. Ant says:

    What you people dont seem able to grasp is that the only people who are hurt from boxing are people who choose to box, and despite what you self righteous simpletons think we are aware of the risks.
    To compare boxing to rape, war and murder where innocent people are hurt by the actions of others is not even a poorly considered arguement , it is an argument that has not been given any consideration.
    all this protecting people from themselves is rubbish as long as only the willing participant is hurt its their life and they should be able to live it!

  7. Murray says:

    "the only people who are hurt from boxing are people who choose to box"

    Really? So if you are brain damaged, that isn't going to affect your wife? Your children? Your parents? Your co-workers who have to pick up the work slack when you become increasingly dysfunctional? And the rest of us who have to pay higher health insurance premiums because people like you can't control your primitive urges?


    Your argument reminds me of the smokers of earlier days who first denied any harm they were doing to themselves. Then when secondary smoke inhalation was shown to cause damage to those in close proximity (family, friends, co-workers), this was also denied. Smokers still claim their habit only causes damage to themselves, and us "do-gooders" are told to butt out. C'mon people, no man is an island.

  8. Steven says:

    Seems to me that Ant's thinking has already been affected by his boxing...

  9. box bra says:

    y boxing is good is cause if u dum [edit] b smart[edit]s n have a go at ppl about boxing u will get [edit] up.

    "Really? So if you are brain damaged, that isn’t going to affect your wife? Your children? Your parents?"

    - so ppl shouldn’t ride horses either? think of that amount of backs broken from horse riding. 100’s of times more than brain damage from boxing. why not ban horse riding? cause u soft [edit] like riding your pony’s n [edit] n can’t handle a bit of fear so u try n stop [edit]. ooh n i agree ban being gay cause it is [edit].

  10. Murray says:

    Thanks for your comment and enthusiasm, box bra. I edited your unacceptable language.

    Where is your evidence that horse riding is more dangerous than boxing? What are you basing this conclusion on? Are you comparing number of rides versus number of boxing matches? Speed of ride? Nature of ride? Length of match?

    Box bra is yet another piece of evidence of the deleterious effects of boxing on cognitive function... Apart from the obvious flaws in rational thinking (frontal lobes), the left temporal lobe's grammar areas have also taken a hit.

  11. Me says:

    "Really? So if you are brain damaged, that isn’t going to affect your wife? Your children? Your parents?"
    When I became an atheist it affected my parents, I stopped reading the Bible, stopped going to church, etc... I'm not going to change cause others don't want me to, and if someone does its not something to be forced by law.
    "have to pick up the work slack when you become increasingly dysfunctional?"
    That's and over exaggeration of the risks of amateur boxing (I say amateur cause a professional boxes for a living.) your not going to get an extra chromosome.

    A blow to the head is like drinking, smoking, or going to a Lamb Of God concert. They all do damage to our brains, why single out boxing?

  12. Alex says:

    I'm not a boxer but I want to say something about this.

    There's a risk that you will get injured if you play a sport. And I mean ANY sport.

    So are you saying we should ban all sports and force everyone to just sit at home all day to make sure everyone is safe so that no one will have to "pick up the work slack" because their colleague is becoming "increasing dysfunctional"?

    Heck, life itself is risky. You never know when you might get hit by a car you didn't see when you walk across the road and you never know when you might slip and fall at home alone and suffer permanent brain damage because no one was around to bring you to the hospital.

    Does that mean we should lock ourselves up in a room and throw away the key so that we can be safe and our families can be safe?

  13. Murray says:

    Hi Alex and thanks for your comment.

    I agree with you - everything has an element of risk. You have raised some points that I think are very valid - crossing the road (or even more, driving on that road without a safety belt) is dangerous, but often essential for our ultimate survival (we may need to cross the road to buy food to eat).

    But that's different to intentionally involving ourselves in the most dangerous sports, which are usually not essential for survival.

  14. DAN says:

    Hi guys

    Was reading your forum/thread as me and my girlfriend were trying to think of the boxer who was brain damaged by Chris Eubank (oh the irony)

    I think both arguements have weight apart from box bra who should be far more worried about his inability to spell the simplest of words (too much boxing me thinks) than he should be about displaying his foul mouthed views on a forum.

    Zac i think you feel a bit two passionate about this, whilst people are willing to 100's and in extreme circumstances 1000's of pounds for ringside seats boxing will be a popular sport. Given the recent advancement of things like box office and PPV which again generate a lot of money then you will have to live with it.

    I think it is a sport of skill and tenancity and admit i like sitting down with a cold one to watch a good fight, not that there at that many at the moment and these people when you listen to them albeit definately aren't the brightest sparks in the boxes most of them still have enough about them to realise the risk they are taking everytime they step into the ring!!

  15. Murray says:

    Yes, Dan - that is the issue, for sure. While people keep paying, the brain damage keeps happening.

    Maybe I should create a bumper sticker along those lines...?

  16. DAN says:

    Well maybe but it surely is the same as saying to a footballer you cant play because of the risk of injury. I would bet that most boxers love the stage and some of the thearte (probably spelt wrong) that comes with boxing and the fact they all have fit wives doesn't hurt either!!!

  17. joe says:

    i would like to say as an amateur boxer myself, that amateur boxing is safer than most other sports such as rugby. for instance we wear head gear, there will only be 3/4 rounds max, the gloves are thicker and the fights are stopped easy. as for pro boxing yes it can cause brain damage and injuries but every fighter is well aware of the risks and dangers involed. alot of fighters come from poor backrounds with little education so boxing is a way out of poverty/crime for them. i would also like to say that every fighter respects each other as they all know what it is like to step into the ring and fight. boxing also teaches dicipline and will keep you fitt and healthy.

  18. Murray says:

    Thanks, Joe for your considered - and sensible - answer.

    I think you are correct about this: a lot of fighters come from poor backrounds with little education so boxing is a way out of poverty/crime for them., however, I think it is a sad situation.

  19. DAN says:

    Yeah that all makes sense Joe. Just think that these people are grown men and to a lesser extent women and they are more than capable of deciding whether this is a career path that they want to take.

  20. Dave says:

    So you want to ban boxing
    I just did a Google search and I found this article to be an excellent defence of the sport.

    [no longer available.]

  21. 8039 says:

    Are you serious? what are you some narcissist who thinks he knows what's best for humanity?

    You simply don't understand boxing. For people like me who live and breathe it, it's a passion. I like nothing more than to put on a pair of gloves and go for a friendly bout with a friend.

    It's a great feeling for those who are born to fight. Comparing that to someone beating their kids is asinine.

    Apart from boxing I also enjoy composing music, reading, researching and cooking. The reason I say this is to question your likely stereotypical views on boxers.

    Now, as far as the medical thing goes. Boxing doesn't do nearly as much damage as you think. There have been studies done that prove taking a blow to the head doesn't do much harm. The benefits of boxing much outweigh the rare instances of long-term brain damage.

    Lastly, it's simply human nature. Watching two people fight or kill each other is a very old practice. Take away a boxers right to fight in the ring legally and see what happens. Want a hint? the word "assult" comes up.

  22. Steve Slaughter says:

    I agree that boxing should be banned. I had a two-year amateur boxing career, and took thousands of punches to the head during that time. I remember being knocked unconcious a few times, being punched so hard that I saw stars, and having headaches after fighting. I just took the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale test, and the examiner asked me if I had any head injuries because my scores were scattered on the subtests. So apparently I have brain damage. I had an MRI done of my brain about four years ago, but no gross legions were showing. My guess is that I have many microscopic legions and damaged neurons. I developed bipolar disorder at age 24 with no family history of this disorder, and I think that's an additional clue. Oh well....I just hope things don't get worse for me! Stay away from boxing. Use your brain in better ways.

  23. steve says:

    I think people should be protected from making bad decisions, especially children. I have no problem with the government making decisions to forbid dangerous activity.

  24. DAN says:

    Slaughter Steve what happened to you is a very rare example and I cant imagine the worry it must cause you on a daily basis, but for everyone who has suffered what you have there is the Joe Calzaghe or the Flloyd Mayweather's who have enjoyed glittering careers and get out while they realise they are still at the top of their game. I am only 22 but I remember watching some of Roy Jones Jr fights (when he wasn't s*it) and thinking how gracefully he moved round the ring and how amateur he made his opponents look.

    That is the true entertainment of the sport.

  25. Matthew says:

    I am a boxer myself and i am training hard for my first professional fight. I have always loved boxing and respect anyone who takes it up. The sport of boxing has helped thousands across the world who are from poor backgrounds and it shows them dicipline and they turn their lives around and channel the agression in a positive way. I have just graduated from university and i studied the development of saftey in boxing for my dissertation. From studying this, boxing has the least amaount of deaths and injuries per 1000 participants than any other sport. It is even estimated that every time a soccer player heads the ball he can damage up to 10,000 brain cells. Life is dangerous and we should not be scared of it, we should live each day as if was our last because you never know what is around the corner. The only thing that i can see wrong with boxing and other combar sports is that to acheive you must inflict violence, however you do not use violence as if you hated your opponent in the ring as you have both agreed to be there a use your skills in tough and cotrolled contest.

  26. Eric says:

    If you think boxing is bad you don't even now I mean come on MMA is far worster then boxing. In MMA you can get a blow to the head by a kick, punch, and with a knee.What I'm trying to say is that don't blame it all on boxing, thiers always a sport worster then the other and you'll always will have injuries. At the same time why ban a sport when all have a bit of danger to them and the reason people play the sport is because they are aware of the danger that their geting them selfs into.

  27. Martin says:

    Many people love contact sports, me included. Alawys have, always will. The people who criticise this sports and say they don't understand it should simply shut up. The truth is that majority of men will alawys love full contact sports and people like murray cannot do anything to stop it. Even if you ban it, it will simply move underground. The question is why people like it? Is it psychological, biological? The truth is most men like to take risks (obviously not murray) and will alaways do activities that get the adredalin pumping. Some do it illegally (street racing, drugs, street fights) but most legally through sports. Take this away from us normal men then theviolence you so hate will become a millions time worst.

  28. Dave says:

    I'm a boxing fan and boxing writer, and also applying to medical school this year. There is definitely some evidence of brain injury that troubles me, but the amount of studies that show a link between injury in amateur boxing and those that don't are about split. Here's an example that finds the number of studies showing definitive proof is lower than many people think.

    On the other hand, that article links to several of the articles that show more negative effects.

    They've just started the largest-scale boxing study ever, which is very promising. Hopefully the evidence from this study can justify some aspects of the sport and change other aspects of it. A lot of what is done in the pros is corrupt, and I do agree that professional fighting needs to be reformed.
    (Here's the study:

    However, like some other commenters have said, death rates in horse racing are significantly greater than in boxing - this is from a book called Boxing and Medicine by Robert Cantu in 1995.

    Some other aspects to consider:
    - Martin mentioned the appeal of the sport to some people - this in itself isn't a reason to allow it (otherwise many illegal things would be made legal) - but it does create an audience and employment opportunities (TV crews, event promoters, fighters, trainers, cut men, and many others). If there is an audience, and both participants choose to take those risks (by their own cost-benefit analysis), then there is a case to be made for the sport's existence.
    - Many fighters' lives improve drastically through boxing. Some of the great professionals (dare I say most, including legends like Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson, as well as modern guys like Sergio Martinez, Paul Williams, and Manny Pacquiao) have found wealth and a better life through boxing. Others who never even go pro find a way to get off the street, and learn discipline. Mike Tyson was in and out of juvenile hall, and was training in a juvenile hall when he was discovered by Cus D'Amato. Boxing changed that young man's life. He's not perfect, and he's made some major mistakes, but he's a lot better off as Mike Tyson than the kid who probably would have gotten gunned down by his 21st birthday. Legendary boxing trainer Ann Wolfe said something along the lines of "I've got guys in there who won't make a dime. They can't fight worth [expletive]. But will they become good men, that's what I'm concerned about." This underscores another fact - boxers spend a lot of time training and doing bag work, and many don't go much beyond that - they certainly don't all fight that often.
    - A while ago, I looked at a list of boxing deaths for people under 40 in the last decade, and there were at least as many caused by gunshot wounds and gang violence as there were from actual boxing-related causes. This reinforces that boxing may indeed be the best way out of a bad situation for a lot of people. It's not the only way, certainly, but it might be the only one available to them. Also, if they're going to learn how to fight (which people in heavy gang areas may need to do), then boxing sure beats the alternative.
    - I think the positive effects of improved physical fitness must also be considered. Boxers tend to be very fit, and it is a strenuous cardiovascular workout. Whether we like it or not, some people probably wouldn't do a sport if it weren't for boxing - they are drawn to something in the sport that doesn't appeal to them with others. For me, it's the aspect of individualism and the strategy - I view it as an ongoing chess match, constantly changing. I exercise in other ways, too, but the boxing gym might be my favorite place to work out when I can make it there. It's a beautiful treat to be alone in a room with a few speedbags and heavybags and trying to maximize your body's power, conditioning, and footwork.

    Increased medical oversight for professional fights is a must. Dr. Margaret Goodman in Las Vegas has been making huge strides in this area, and there are others (hopefully me in the future) who are also trying to bring some sense to the professional sport, rather than trying to ban it entirely. If you email me, I'd be glad to explain to you some of the great beauty that is offered by boxing and no other sport.

  29. Murray says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Dave.

    It’s a beautiful treat to be alone in a room with a few speedbags and heavybags and trying to maximize your body’s power, conditioning, and footwork.

    No problem with that, since at least you are not reducing the cognitive potential of some hapless person who's been convinced there is no other choice for his life, as you would be if you were beating him in the head.

  30. Daryl Grimes says:

    Just the other week, I was watching a boxing match. At the end of the bout, one of the boxers fell and was left unconscious. Medics said he sustained several head concussions damaging his brain as well. This got me wondering. Are these type of brain injuries considered an accident since it's part of the sport to hit each other?

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