The sport of boxing has been associated with traumatic brain injury since as far back as 1928, when an American pathologist published a paper showing evidence that blows to the head in boxing cause ruptured blood vessels, leading to brain injury. According to a recent study, 488 people died from boxing-related causes between 1960 and 2011, of which 66% were attributed to head, brain or neck injuries. Although the degree of brain injury suffered by boxers varies greatly, it has been estimated that up to 40% of ex-boxers suffer from some degree of brain damage. Outside of boxing, former NFL professional Junior Seau took his own life last year, which many have attributed to depression caused by the multiple concussions he endured during his playing career. These statistics, tragic stories and the improved understanding of the neurological effects of repeated blows to the head has led many to question whether boxing should be legal.
What is TBI?
Before addressing boxing safety laws, we should first consider what is meant by traumatic brain injury. TBI, as it is commonly referred to, is a disruption of the normal functioning of the brain, caused by an object suddenly and violently hitting the head, or piercing the skull and interfering with brain tissue. The symptoms vary greatly, ranging from brief loss of consciousness in mild cases, to death or coma in severe cases. Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death from sports-related injuries.
Do the safety requirements in professional boxing actually protect boxers?
Although the striking of another person with the intent to cause injury is nominally a tort, legal traditions across the world have long permitted boxing because it is for the purpose of sport, and that the boxers willingly subject themselves to the risk of injury. Under Florida law, several safeguards aim to protect the health of professional boxers and reduce the risk of severe injury. For example, boxers are required to undergo medical examinations before receiving a license from the Florida State Boxing Commission, and they can revoke their licenses if they fail to meet the required medical conditions later. If a boxer loses a fight by knockout, he or she is automatically suspended from sparring or participating in a match for at least 60 days. Each boxing match must be attended by a physician, who is required to examine each participant at weigh-in, and observe the condition of each boxer before, during and after the match. In case of injury, boxers are also required to have a minimum of $20,000 insurance coverage for medical, surgical or hospital care.
A study on mortality rates in professional boxing from TBI found that there was a significant drop in the number of deaths after 1983, which was attributed to shorter boxing careers, fewer fights, increased medical oversight and better safety regulations. The authors recommended requiring boxers that lose by knockout to undergo central nervous system imaging as a way of further improving safety standards.
Despite improvements in the last 30 years, boxing remains a dangerous sport, with a significant risk of leading to TBI. For more information on traumatic brain injuries, get in touch with a Sarasota brain injury attorney.