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Boxing considered hazardous to health.


A six-year study on U.S. service personnel hospitalized for boxing-related injuries has raised serious doubts about the sport's practicality. Already several professional medical organizations have called for reforms or, in the case of the American Medical Association, a total ban on the sport. Because boxing is mandatory at U.S. military academies, however, reformers within the service ranks are moving with extreme caution.

During the period studied, there were more than 400 hospital admissions of Army personnel due to boxing-related injuries, mostly of the head. These admissions resulted in more than 2,000 days of hospitalization and more than 3,500 days of lost work. The average hospitalization was a little over five days followed by almost nine days of disability--basically a two-week layover. One soldier died of an intracranial hemorrhage; another was permanently blinded in one eye. U.S. Marine Corps cadets, studied in tandem with Army personnel, averaged just two days' hospitalization and two days' disability, owing to the Marines' policy of discharging hospitalized cadets immediately after declaring them fit for duty.

Maj. Robert W. Enzenauer, a medical corpsman with the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colo., and the study's principal investigator, says he and his staff could not calculate the actual incidence of boxing injuries because the U.S. Army does not register boxers per se. "Evidence that boxing produces irreversible brain damage is now as indisputable as the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer," he writes. "Although injuries can occur in any sport, it is only the `sport' of boxing whose main goal is to cause potentially life-threatening harm." Although proponents of boxing within U.S. service academies argue that the sport promotes bravery and an improved self-concept, Enzenauer questions whether these alleged benefits outweigh the definite risks involved.

In an accompanying editorial, Jeffrey T. Sammons, an historian at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., and an admitted "former [boxing] fan," writes that "most scholarly evidence indicates that boxing success is illusory and short-lived, its positive qualities greatly overrated." Sammons points out that, first of all, the chances of someone becoming a champion on the order of world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson are exceedingly slim, because of the fierce competition; second, even if one should attain that goal, the histories of past champions whose lavish lifestyles preceded bankruptcy and physical deterioration (Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta, to name just two) should serve as a warning to young hopefuls, especially economically disadvantaged individuals looking for their "ticket out of the ghetto," that professional boxing is hardly an enduringly lucrative endeavor. "Boxers," Sammons writes, "have no 16th round." That is, among all professional sports, boxing is the only one without pension plans, health benefits, assistance for substance abuse problems, or compensation for career-ending injuries. "In addition," he writes, "boxers are the only athletes in major sports who have no association to provide special services, no scholarship opportunities and almost no capacity to earn a living in sport after retirement."

Enzenauer concludes his report in the March, 1989, JAMA by saying, "When itwas deemed that cigarette smoking offered a significant risk to health, cigarettes were no longer included in soldiers' C rations. When physical hazing was determined inappropriate behavior for future officers, it was discontinued at the U.S. service academies. Perhaps military boxing, with its definite risks and arguable benefits, will suffer a similar fate."
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:May 1, 1989
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